In autumn 2015 the way child services are funded changed. Local authorities became responsible for ensuring the best outcomes for local children. We identified there was a need to examine these proposals and establish how they could affect a child’s early years. Working with Childlife we produced the ‘Poor Beginnings’ report.
We know that the first five years of a child's life are crucial to their future development. We also know, from previous research, that thousands of children are obese, are suffering from tooth decay, are victims of accidental injury and do not develop well before starting school. However, a child’s chance of being affected by one of these poor outcomes depends a great deal on where they grow up.
The results of this report provide a clear picture of the health of children under five years old living in England and shows how growing up in different areas of the country dramatically affects their lives.
Using a variety of sources, including a number of previous NCB reports, and official data published by Public Health England, our researchers looked at four key measures of young children’s health and development across England. We included obesity in 4-5 year-olds; tooth decay in five-year-olds; hospital admissions due to injury in under-fives; and children achieving a good level of development by the end of reception.
We made comparisons across English local authorities and regions, through the English indices of deprivation, which measures the relative deprivation in small areas of England.
We also considered how many poor outcomes could be avoided if the weakest performing regions matched the top performing regions - and vice versa.
Key findings of the report
There are startling variations in young children's outcomes at regional and local authority level. For example, if the North West had the same outcomes as the South East it would have around 5,500 more children achieving a good level of development by the end of Reception.
Young children growing up in deprived areas tend to do worse than those living in less deprived areas. For example, if all local authorities had the same outcomes as the least deprived in England, there would be a 16% reduction in national obesity in reception aged children, equivalent to nearly 10,000 fewer obese children.
Significantly, it is not inevitable that children in poor areas fare the worst. There are a number of very deprived local authorities where young children are doing as well as, or better than, the national average.
Explore in more depth the stories of deprived areas where young children's health and development is as good as, or better than, the national average in our area summaries.
In publishing, Poor Beginnings: Health Inequalities among young children across England, we aimed to reassert local and national governments responsibility for tackling these inequalities.
We encouraged the government to take a number of steps. Firstly, it needs to join up activity across government departments, particularly health and education, to set out a renewed strategy to support children and families in the early years that focuses on children’s health and development.
We also gave all partners advocating for improved child health outcomes tools to hold decision-makers to account.
We asked the government for these new local authority responsibilities to be closely monitored and kept under review.
Through significant media coverage and a parliamentary debate, the report raised the profile of the issue of health inequalities in the early years and in turned secured important policy changes.
This included when Government announced it would abandon plans to relax requirements on local authorities to provide health visiting services. The current system involves five mandatory health visitor checks for every child from birth to age 5. We called for these services to be retained as a vital way to detect early health and development issues.