In focus

What happens in the first years of a child’s life will set the foundations for future educational success, health and wellbeing.


But one in three children will not reach a good level of development by age five. This puts them at a disadvantage from their first day at school.

There are a number of reasons for this including parenting styles, the home environment and wider family circumstance. Addressing the obstacles presented by each will be crucial to give all children the best start in life.

Over the coming months Action for Children will be publishing a series of think pieces from leading academics. Each piece will focus on different influences on children in the early years and what this means for outcomes in later life, new and existing research and what can be done to overcome the challenges that exist.

Read our think pieces:

The impact of poverty and inequality on children

The environment a child grows up in has a crucial influence on their development. Parents living on a low income can struggle to afford toys and books that can help to provide a rich experience for children’s early development. With millions of children living in poverty in the UK too many are at risk of missing out on the experiences that can support good development in the early years.

Author: Professor Brigid Daniel, University of Stirling.

Read the think piece.

Attachment and parental sensitivity – their role in supporting good child development and lifelong positive outcomes

The attachment to primary caregivers gives children a secure base to explore the world around them. The quality or security of their attachment has a significant bearing on their future emotional and social development and is linked to emotional understanding and range of social and school readiness outcomes.

Local and national government can help to close the attainment gap and increase social mobility by implementing a comprehensive and sustainable pyramid of support for families. This would creating stable and secure environments in which children can thrive.

Authors: Janet Rose, PhD, Norland College and Karen McInnes PhD, Bath Spa University

Read the think piece.

What role does parenting style play in supporting child development?

Parenting that is nurturing, sensitive and caring is paramount in raising happy and healthy children, especially in the early years. But not all children benefit from positive experiences and interactions with their parents when they are young.

It is time for parenting policies to focus once again on their promise to support the most vulnerable children and families in our society and to commit to providing high-quality targeted support, including easy and timely access to parenting programmes.

Author: Dr Angeliki Kallitsoglou, PhD, CPsych, FHEA, University of Roehampton

Read the think piece

Inter-parental relationship and positive child development in the early years and in later life

The quality of the interparental (couple) relationship plays a significant role in affecting children’s long-term emotional, behavioural and academic outcomes.
In the UK there remain gaps in knowledge about how to engage families effectively, how to replicate quality of interventions at scale, how to evaluate and monitor impacts on child outcomes.
Authors: Dr. Ruth Sellers, University of Sussex

The Home Learning Environment and good child development

The Home Learning Environment (HLE) describes different activities parents and family members engage with when children are young. This can include reading to a child, playing with numbers or letters, sorting or counting things, painting and drawing or learning rhymes. A positive early years home learning environment can provide many benefits and is linked to improved GCSE and A-level attainment.

There has been progress in closing the gap in early years outcomes between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers. However, a large developmental gap still remains that is linked in part to the nature of the early years HLE.

There is pressing need to consider how we can better support parents to enhance the quality of the home learning environment. This will require much more than just helping parents to engage in specific activities. We need to support families to establish a stable home environment and to be motivated, responsive and confident parents who can support their child’s development.

Authors: Rebecca Smees, University of Sussex and Pam Sammons Jesus College, Oxford

Read the think piece.