The following ideas have had a significant influence on the development of the Reach Children's Hub and continue to inform our work.
The Impact of Toxic Stress
The research highlights the fundamental effects of early childhood, when the brain and body are highly susceptible to environmental influences, which can have lasting effects. In particular, her work emphasises the detrimental effects that toxic parental stress can have on parent-child interaction and attachment, and therefore the outcomes for children.
This work has helped to shape the Hub’s emphasis on intervening in the earliest stages of life to support families experiencing complex difficulties.
Kirstin Kerr and Alan Dyson have used the work of Brofenbrenner to emphasise the significance of the interrelated contexts in which children and young people live their lifes. Brofenbrenner used the term “social ecology” to describe these interacting contexts.
Kerr & Dyson emphasise that effectively transformational interventions have to ‘match the complexity of children’s lives and the factors and processes at work locally’ (Dyson & Kerr 2015: 9) – they have to address children’s social ecologies, not just one aspect of their lives. This is a key principle for Reach Children’s Hub and one that informs the breadth of offer that we intend to bring the community.
Kirstin Kerr is supervising our embedded PhD researcher, Vicky Hirst, who is contributing to our evaluation .
The case for early intervention
The journey of the Hub’s founders has been from teaching in a Secondary school to a fascination with, and commitment to, supporting children in the earliest years. The experience of seeing a stark achievement gap in the school’s Nursery is corroborated by a strong evidence base which shows that a high proportion of the achievement gap at 16 is already present when a child starts school.
It is also supported by the work of James Heckman, who has made a powerful economic case for investing in the first years of a child’s life. This evidence base has further informed the focus on the first years of life in the Hub.
What matters during childhood
The Hub Team have been fortunate enough to work closely with Dartington Social Research has part of the Early Learning Community project in partnership with Save The Children. The Dartington Team, including renowned Early Years expert, Oxford University’s Kathy Silva, visited the Hub twice in Summer 2018 as they developed the Early Learning toolkit which is now informing the development of the Early Learning Community project.
As part of that engagement the team was able to explore what the evidence says matters most in early childhood, as represented by the graphic below.