My Baby’s Brain

There is an abundance of literature advocating that the optimum time for brain development is within the first few years of life and that the primary care giver has an essential part to play in this developmental process. This has been highlighted in a number of recent high profile reports (Paterson, 2011, Field, 2010, Allen, 2011). Field (2010) stated that “the most effective and cost-effective way to help and support young families is in the earliest years of a child’s life” (pg. 5). Further to this Paterson (2011) recognising that research suggests that it is not the amount of time that a parent spends with their child, but what they do with this time, advocated a strategy similar to that of the ‘five a day’ fruit and vegetable concept. 

Hertfordshire County Council’s Childhood Support Services (CSS) recognise that passing on this message of brain development at this time directly to parents is an important priority for services within the local authority and its partners in supporting child development. To promote this CSS funded a series of training sessions delivered by Kate Cairns Associates (KCA) to be based around the ‘five a day’ concept. The Family Matters Institute was 
commissioned to undertake an independent evaluation of all aspects of the project. This followed a mixed methods methodology collecting quantitative and qualitative data from 71 professionals pre and post training day, 33 parents attending a session added to a series of existing post natal sessions and 69 parents that received the ‘Five to Thrive’ message directly from practitioners that attended the training day. The ‘Five to Thrive’ areas included Respond, Cuddle, Relax, Play and Talk. 


The ‘My Baby’s Brain Five to Thrive’ message was received positively by all three groups. Statistically significant differences (p=<0.025) were found in regard to practitioners knowledge and confidence in the area of baby brain development as well as parental self efficacy, confidence within the ‘Five to Thrive’ areas and the perceived importance that parents bestow upon these five areas. Qualitative results, collected from practitioners, suggest that the ‘Five to Thrive’ message had a particular impact on the confidence and self esteem in parents suffering from depression and post natal depression. Practitioners stated that they were seeing noticeable differences in the parent’s confidence on subsequent visits after sharing the message. In addition to this, reassurance was a thread that was seen to weave through all of the data with practitioners feeling reassured that they were delivering the right message and information and parents feeling reassured that they were ‘doing the right thing’ in their parenting practices. This seemed to enhance self confidence in all groups and also more importantly dispelled myths around parenting practices passed onto parents via family and friends especially older generations. 


The ‘My Baby’s Brain Five to Thrive’ message appears to have been a success with the message reaching in excess of 300 parents as well as those that took part in the study. A number of practitioners have shared the information in differing ways and have often also changed their working practices as a direct result of this. Many of them have incorporated the message into existing courses or added bolt on sessions to these dedicated to the ‘Five to Thrive’ message. The resources that have been produced that go in tandem with the message have also been very well received by all three groups. All practitioners are eager to continue to disseminate the message and related resources to parents that they work with. 

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