The Child in Context
The Early Intervention (EI) Framework is grounded in the recognition that one of the most important factors for infant and child development is the relationships that they experience with those around them. The impact of early relationships is profound for development across the years to follow and as children grow and their worlds widen beyond their family to include friends, their community and school, these connections too shape their progress. The selection of programmes in the EI Framework reflects these diverse contributors to a child’s developmental trajectory and the importance of holding in mind the many systems that surround a child and family.
Positive mental health across the developmental trajectory
The template of an infant’s developing brain is laid down through a combination of their genetic blueprint and their early experiences, with the most profound period of brain development taking place over their first three years of life. The connections within their growing brain are dependent on consistent use, with those pathways regularly stimulated being those that will be laid down long term. This is true whether the stimulation is positive and nurturing, or whether it is detrimental or indeed absent, and so the quality of the interactions that an infant has opportunity to engage in over its early months and years is crucial.
The primary source of interaction for infants and young children is their parents or caregivers and the relationship that they develop will form a blueprint for relationships to follow. If an infant receives sensitive, attuned, consistent interactions from their parent or caregiver, they are more likely to form a secure attachment which is known to be a protective factor for a number of later life outcomes across mental health, physical health and social domains.
In recognition of the importance of these early relationships, the EI Framework includes programmes which begin from the antenatal period, where it is primarily centred on interventions aimed at supporting parents and caregivers to develop strong, nurturing relationships with their child to reflect the innate need in these early years.
The widening circles of influential relationships
As children progress to toddler and preschool stages, their immediate family continues to be their primary influence, although the contribution of wider family, the community and nursery begin to be apparent. The early aspects of positive mental health, grounded in the child’s developing brain structure and their patterns of interaction, support the child to develop emotional regulation, resilience and relationships within this wider sphere.
Their worlds widen further as they enter school and a child’s emotional wellbeing continues to be profoundly influenced by the systems around them. Social relationships and further layers of interactions within a school setting contribute to guide a child’s beliefs about themselves and the world around them, and the EI Framework reflects this in bringing focus to interventions for schools and communities as well as for parents over these developing years.
Adolescence is known to be a period of brain reorganisation and development and as such offers profound opportunity to support positive growth in mental health and wellbeing. The EI Framework has captured programmes and approaches targeted specifically across this period to ensure that the network of family and professionals around an adolescent might have access to the tools to support young people to have the most positive steps towards adulthood.
Principles of the Early Intervention Framework
The EI Framework is underpinned throughout by the recognition of the influence of systems around every child and family, with the inclusion of parenting programmes alongside those for implementation through nurseries, schools and communities. Including programmes from before birth and the infancy stage draws on an understanding of the pivotal development that takes place over these early years, and from here the EI Framework builds on this foundation, acknowledging that development continues across the spectrum of childhood with interventions tailored appropriately to each age and stage.
Just as a child is shaped by influences from across their world, the EI Framework is characterised by the breadth of approaches reflected in the interventions contained within, all united in their shared aim of supporting infants, children and young people to develop the most positive mental health outcomes possible.