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A Better Start

Promoting good Early Childhood Development
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What is A Better Start?

A Better Start is a £215 million, ten-year strategic investment focused on developing and testing new approaches to promoting good Early Childhood Development (ECD). A Better Start is funded by the Big Lottery Fund. This work will take place through five partnerships with local services.

The five A Better Start partnerships
The A Better Start partnerships will put the science and evidence of ECD into practice. Through the programme, they are developing the knowledge, skills and capacity to design, select, implement, deliver, evaluate and adapt pathways and services to learn what works to meet the needs of children and families in their local areas. The partnerships are evaluating the impact and cost effectiveness of these approaches and sharing their learning both within and beyond A Better Start.

The five A Better Start partnerships are:

Each A Better Start partnership is led by a voluntary sector organisation, and made up of a range of partners committed to improving outcomes for children, including parents, members of the community, statutory agencies and the community sector.

Who benefits from A Better Start?
The A Better Start partnerships work in target wards within each local authority area. The programme is for all families living in those wards, from pregnancy until their child turns 4.

A Better Start outcomes

Each partnership has developed a locally tailored strategy to promote ECD, drawing on their detailed understanding of strengths of the community and the specific challenges they face. These strategies include evidence-based and science-based approaches, alongside innovations, to support three key child development outcomes:

  1. To improve children’s diet and nutrition
  2. To improve children’s social and emotional development
  3. To improve children’s speech, language and communication

A key aspect to improving these three ECD outcomes is bringing about changes to the way systems around children and families operate. The fourth aim of A Better Start is therefore:

  1. To bring about systems change, leading to support and services for children and families that is prevention-focused, responsive to local needs, coproduced and joined up.

Rationale for A Better Start

The case for investing in Early Childhood Development is compelling. There is strong evidence from multiple disciplines that pregnancy and the early years is a particularly sensitive period of life, when the foundations are set for future learning, behaviour and health.

  • What happens in the womb can last a lifetime. Good maternal mental health and nutrition promotes healthy development, while factors such as maternal obesity, smoking or drinking alcohol can all increase risks during pregnancy.
  • Once born, babies continue to develop rapidly, with 700 new neural connections forming in the brain every second in the first two years of life. Children’s bodies grow faster in the first years of life than at any other life stage. At such a time of rapid development, early care, nutrition and experiences - positive or negative - can have far reaching impacts.
  • Pregnancy and the transition to parenthood is an important ‘window of opportunity’ when parents are particularly receptive to support, motivated by the desire to do the best for their baby.
  • Poor child outcomes can come at a big financial cost to society. Healthy foetal and infant development means that babies are more likely to grow up to be adults who are happy, healthy and fully contributing members of society. For this reason, investing in pregnancy and the early years is an efficient and effective investment for economic development.
  • There is a social gradient across many health and development outcomes. Differences in the development of children from different socioeconomic backgrounds emerge from an early age.

Why ECD matters

Key reading:

Centre for the Developing Child. Brain Architecture

Marmot, M. (2010) Fair society, healthy lives: the Marmot review. Strategic review of health inequalities post-2010. London: University College London Institute of Health Equity.

The Heckman Equation

Chowdry, H. & Oppenheim, C. (2015) Spending on late intervention: how we can do better for less. London: Early Intervention Foundation, p5.

Dartington Social Research Centre. (2013) The Science Within: what matters for child outcomes in the early years. Dartington: The Social Research Unit.

How will we know we’ve succeeded?

You can read about the national evaluation of A Better Start here

Big Lottery Fund contacts

At Big Lottery Fund, A Better Start is led by Sarah Gibbs, Head of Funding Investment:

The Development Support programme is led by Chris Cuthbert, Director of Development, A Better Start: