Study design and content
The Early Life Cohort Feasibility Study will draw a nationally representative sample of babies born from all four UK nations, and aims to recruit several thousand families. The age at which first data collection will take place, subject to the availability of the sampling frame, will be when babies are around nine months old.
Data collection will involve interviews with mothers and fathers, and saliva samples (from parents) and cheek swabs (for infants) for DNA extraction will be collected from an experimental sub-group to test the impact on participation.
The feasibility of innovative measures to capture babies’ development will also be tested, comprising neuro scientific measures (looking-time task, eye tracking, mobile EEG to measure brain activity, together with use of an actimetry device), and measurement of the early language environment (through placement in the home of a LENA recording device). We will also test additional infant biosamples (hair samples) and infant anthropometry (weight, length, head circumference and adiposity). These feasibility of collecting these specialist objective measurements using trained fieldwork agency staff will be assessed via small scale field tests, separate to the main data collection.
The study design will also enable linkage to electronic and other administrative records of babies and parents as well as to geo-environmental data, which can provide information on environmental and other conditions in the places they spend time, including homes, childcare locations, and hospitals.
Representativeness and inclusion
The study design focuses on maximising participation of traditionally ‘less often heard’ populations.
In England, there will be sample boosts for babies born into disadvantaged and ethnic minority families, and further boosts of births in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We will use experiments to test the effectiveness of different levels of incentives for taking part.
We will engage fathers into the study, including those living in their own households, and will develop tailored engagement and recruitment strategies for other less often heard groups, such as babies born to young mothers, immigrant families, premature and low-birth weight babies, and twins and other multiple births.
We are also working together with experts to understand how best to engage babies who are extremely vulnerable in the study, including children born into care.
The project team is undertaking careful public engagement to ensure public acceptability of the proposed sampling, data collection and record linkage approaches, and will ensure the study serves the needs of the people it represents, by working closely with panels of families and children. In addition, the project team has carried out extensive consultation with policy and practitioner networks and with academic data users to determine evidence needs and scientific priorities for the feasibility study.