Neil Leitch, Chief Executive, Pre-school Learning Alliance and Chairperson of the EYN Partnership
Nurturing the early years: taking our responsibility seriously
There is no longer any doubt about the huge impact of the early years on a child’s life
Mounting evidence has resulted in global recognition that the first 1000 days, the time between when a child is conceived and their second birthday, is a critical period. Research has confirmed that this time in a child’s development is more influential on their future health, emotional and social wellbeing than any other period.1
This knowledge has led to widespread support for action to ensure that the education, funding and services are in place so that we can get things right during the early years. The UK's First Cross-Party Children's Manifesto was ‘The 1001 Critical Days Manifesto’, a vision for early years services, originally launched in 2013 and re-launched more recently in December 2016. The Manifesto presents the “moral, scientific and economic case for the importance of the conception to age two period.”2
The growing role of formal childcare
A 2016 report from the Family and Childcare Trust in association with the British Educational Suppliers Association estimated that in the UK there are 23,500 day nurseries and 9,600 pre-schools.3 A Department of Education survey for the period 2014 to 2015 found that there are more children in some form of childcare at ages three to four years old (93%) than at any other age. 90% of children in this age group spend some time attending a formal childcare provision compared to 40% of those from birth to two years old.4 A lot of variation was seen in the amount of time spent in childcare, but those children attending day nurseries spent an average of 17.9 hours per week in the setting.4
It is therefore clear that the responsibility to get things right in the early years is increasingly shared between parents and carers, family and early years practitioners with everyone playing a significant role. Factors ranging from families’ socio-economic challenges to working parents increasing need for childcare, can mean that early years settings are increasingly relied upon to support parents and carers in providing young children with what they need to thrive.
The Pre-School Learning Alliance is committed to making sure that the impact from early years settings is a positive one.
Fuelling full potential with food
Of the many influential factors in the first years of life, nutrition is proven to have a broad impact on short and long-term health outcomes including the likelihood of becoming an obese child and adult and the risk of developing chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes and cancer in later life.5
But early years nutrition doesn’t only put a child’s health at stake. Babies are born with 25% of their adult brain developed and by age three this has increased to 80%.1,6 This rapid brain development is accompanied by leaps forward in their cognitive and social development, language and motor skills. It’s astonishing that a child’s developmental score at 22 months can serve as an accurate predictor of educational outcome at age 26!1Nutrition is a critical building block required to fuel this brain development. Getting the right food is as important as getting enough food, and poor nutrition can decrease a child’s ability to learn, lead to poorer performance in school and ultimately may result in lifetime of lost earning potential.
Partnering for change
Competing priorities can make it difficult for practitioners to provide an optimal environment for children. But we believe that nutrition is one of the fundamentals of children’s wellbeing. However, we appreciate that it can be difficult to commit to building nutritional expertise within a setting, amongst everything else. This is why the Alliance is so proud to be involved in the Early Years Nutrition Partnership, which brings together the collective expertise of the Alliance with the British Nutrition Foundation and Danone Nutricia Early Life Nutrition. We have a mission to improve the future outcomes of young children by setting a standard for nutrition practice in early years settings. And we are working to make this a reality using a model that is designed to be flexible and sensitive to settings needs and challenges.
Empowering early years practitioners
The unique model used by the EYN Partnership to achieve its goals is close to our heart at the Alliance, as it focuses on working hand in hand with early years practitioners to upskill, engage and empower them.
Registered nutrition professionals support practitioners to develop their nutrition knowledge through training and tailored guidance. The training available equips practitioners with knowledge of the specific nutrition and hydration needs of children in the early years, which differs to nutritional needs at other times of life. The tailored guidance addresses the specific needs of the cohort of children within each setting, which can differ widely.
The knowledge gained is not limited to the building blocks of a good diet. The nutrition professionals share insights on how food and nutrition can be incorporated into the wider learning and development of young children. Food can be used to help children learn colours, textures, motor skills with cutlery and much more. And both the type of food and drink, and the way it is offered, can help children develop healthy habits and positive relationships with food. Effective ways of engaging and sharing knowledge with parents and carers are also covered.
Such a holistic approach delivers longer term benefits for children’s health and wellbeing. It also pays dividends for the setting. It can build the confidence of practitioners, support their career development, increase moral amongst staff and spark inspiration that creates a motivated team. Working towards and achieving the nutritional standards to secure accreditation with the EYN Partnership Quality Mark also demonstrates a serious commitment to delivering high quality nutrition for children which is a fantastic way of building the reputation of your setting.
Investing in EYN Partnership registration is an investment in your staff, an investment in your business and most importantly an investment in the wellbeing of children, for now and for the future.
Social enterprise for equal access
The Pre-school Learning Alliance works together with childcare providers and parents to secure access to high quality care for every family. This commitment is reflected in the values of the EYN Partnership. It is a social enterprise determined to provide subsidised services for settings in deprived areas. The goal is that 10% of all settings registered with the EYN Partnership will receive this subsidised access. 49% of children living in the most deprived areas attend some form of formal childcare4 and we believe that deprivation should not be a barrier to children receiving the food they need. We’re excited that the EYN Partnership is harnessing the power of social enterprise to positively influence the future health of a generation and provide every child with the opportunity to reach their full potential.
I would urge settings to seize the opportunity to register with the EYN Partnership. The support offered truly enhances outcomes for children, staff and for business.