New home visiting project aims to give South Yorkshire pre-schoolers best start in life

A new project which aims to prepare disadvantaged preschool children for school is being launched by national charity Family Lives, in partnership with Sheffield Hallam University’s social mobility programme South Yorkshire Futures, and South Yorkshire’s local authorities.

The project will deliver a programme called ParentChild+ to around 160 disadvantaged families in South Yorkshire. ParentChild+ aims to improve the home-learning environment through home visits by trained workers.

Visits occur twice a week for 15 months, with every family receiving at least 92 visits. Home visitors take a free toy or book with them each week. During the sessions, home visitors demonstrate with parents and children how to read, talk and play together. The activities aim to increase parent-child interaction, promote positive behaviour and encourage literacy skills which help to prepare the child for school.

The programme will be delivered by national charity Family Lives in partnership with South Yorkshire Futures – a regional social mobility programme led by Sheffield Hallam University.

The delivery in South Yorkshire is a randomised controlled trial of ParentChild+ to test the effectiveness of the programme in the UK.

It is funded by the Education Endowment Fund, the Department for Education, and Shine Trust, and the trial will be evaluated by a team from the University of York, Durham University and Leeds Beckett University.

The project will work with South Yorkshire’s four local authorities to identify families who are eligible for, but not taking up, the entitlement to free childcare for disadvantaged two-year-olds, including ‘children in need’.

It is supported by South Yorkshire Futures who assisted with the development of the bid and will facilitate partnerships, provide resources and carry out additional research on the impact the programme is having. 

ParentChild+ is aimed at families who are not taking up the offer of free nursery for their two-year-olds, and those where children are at risk of being behind their peers in terms of school readiness. The home visitors will be employed by Family Lives and work with Early Years teams at Sheffield, Doncaster, Rotherham and Barnsley councils.

Research from the US shows intervening at pre-school age is more effective than targeting children when they start school.

The project has been delivered extensively in the US since 1965 and also in Chile, Bermuda, Canada and Ireland. It is currently being piloted in the UK in Ealing, Nottingham and Newcastle.

Sally Pearse, who leads the early years education strand for South Yorkshire Futures at Sheffield Hallam University, said: “I am delighted that this exciting initiative which has had proven success in the US is being trialled in South Yorkshire.

“Children’s experiences in the first few years of their life have a major impact on their development and this project will help tackle the disadvantage experienced by some children in South Yorkshire by trying to address some of the attainment gaps already apparent between children of different backgrounds by the time they start school.”

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