Testing the ‘incredible’ route to children’s and parents’ wellbeing

11 March 2015

Lyndsey Boardman

UCLan joins national research project

A researcher from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) will evaluate newly-developed programmes that aim to improve the social and emotional wellbeing of children under two and their parents as part of a collaborative project.

UCLan’s Dr Karen Whittaker from the School of Health, and newly appointed Fellow of the Institute of Health Visiting, will work on the four-year research project. Led by the University of York, it is backed by a £1.85 million grant from the NIHR (National Institute for Health Research). The study also includes co-investigators from the universities of Plymouth, Sheffield, and Maynooth, with initial partners including Action for Children, Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust, and Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council.

The multi-disciplinary research team aim to evaluate the effectiveness and acceptability of Incredible Years (IY) Parent Programmes for 0-2 year-olds. Evidence from research around the world suggests that the BASIC IY programme - for parents of children aged 3+ years - enhances child and parent wellbeing.

The IY Parent Programmes have been developed to help parents deal with children who are showing signs of behaviours that are difficult to manage. In the short-term they focus on building a close relationship between the parent and child by encouraging more play, placing an emphasis on praise and reward, and setting definite limits to handle misbehaviour. The idea is that without early family intervention, behavioural issues can become much harder to change by the time a child is 8-years-old.

The more recently developed IY Parent Programmes for infants and toddlers have shown promising results in two small trials in Wales and Boston, USA, yet have not yet been rigorously evaluated in England.

The study will feature an 18-month randomised pilot in Lancashire and Devon followed by a 30-month main randomised trial in four local authority areas. It will involve a total of 900 families and will seek to assess the impact of IY particularly on those parents and carers at risk of developing depression.

“The home environment, and particularly parent practices and mental health of both mothers and fathers, can impact significantly on a child’s social and emotional wellbeing and behaviour.”

A group of 650 primary carers will receive IY interventions while a comparison group of 250 will be able to access services typically offered in their locality for this age range. Intervention group parents, along with co-parents, or other significant carers such as grandparents, will receive varying levels of IY proportionate to their needs.

The researchers will assess the primary outcomes when children are around 20 months old. These will focus on the child’s social and emotional wellbeing, and wellbeing among primary carers, co-parents and other significant carers.

The study will also assess parenting skills; parent-child attachment and interaction; parent and child access to health and social services; child behaviour; child language; quality of IY programme delivery; and health-related quality of life and cost.

Dr Karen Whittaker commented: “The home environment, and particularly parent practices and mental health of both mothers and fathers, can impact significantly on a child’s social and emotional wellbeing and behaviour. Early experiences affect outcomes in later life such as educational attainment, and the ability to form secure relationships.

“There is considerable evidence including that brought together by The 1001 Critical Days cross party manifesto showing that early mental health promotion is more effective, and less costly to the individual and to society, than late intervention. Our study involving health visitors delivering early interventions will address an important knowledge gap by investigating the potential of two new IY parent programmes for the ‘under twos’ in the short, medium and possibly longer term.”