The Early Life Cohort Feasibility Study will collect rich data on a new generation of babies born across the UK between August-October 2021, capturing information about their economic and social environments, and their health, wellbeing and development during their first year of life.
The main aim of the project is to test the feasibility of successful recruitment into an innovative new UK-wide study of babies. However, the data from the feasibility study itself will also be of value to the research and policy community.
The study aims to paint a nationally representative picture of the circumstances and lives of a new cohort of babies born at a critical time in the UK’s history. With the economic and social repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the impacts of Brexit on our economy and society still unknown, the need to understand the challenges facing this generation of babies, their development as children and their future prospects is pressing.
The primary scientific aim of the study is to understand how inequalities in early child development are changing over time, and to learn whether the social and biological factors driving these trajectories are evolving. The key scientific themes will include:
- Inequality, disadvantage, and diversity;
- Cognitive, social, and emotional development of infants;
- Infant-parent relationships, and the early home environment;
- Infant health, including growth, nutrition and sleep;
- Mental health of parents and the developing child;
- Social, environmental and neighbourhood influences on infant and family;
- Genomics, early adversity and biological embedding of stress.
What will be in the study?
To ensure the project delivers on its key scientific themes, we will run a consultation in May and June 2021 on the content and design of the study. Some key features of the design are set out below.
The ELC-FS will draw a nationally representative sample of babies born from all four UK nations, and use a range of data collection modes and methods.
The sample design will focus 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 engage fathers into the study, including those living in their own households, and will consult widely on engagement of other potentially 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 will work together with experts to understand how best to engage babies who are extremely vulnerable in the study, including children born into care.
The exact age at which data collection is set to take place depends upon the sampling frame, and is subject to consultation, but is likely to be when babies are aged nine months. Data collection will involve face-to-face interviews with both mothers and fathers, combined with innovative measures to capture babies’ development and interactions with parents. These may include direct observations and recordings by trained fieldworkers in the home, data collection via a smartphone app and wearable sleep and activity devices.
Bio-samples – such as cheek swabs and hair – will be issued to an experimental subgroup of 1,000 babies, to test the impact on participation for the main study. We will also use experiments to test other features of the study design, including the effectiveness of different levels of incentives for taking part.
The study design will enable linkages to electronic health and other administrative records of babies, parents, and siblings, 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.
The project team will undertake 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 will engage closely with policy and practitioner networks and will consult with academic data users to determine evidence needs and scientific priorities for the feasibility study.
Who funds the study?
The Early Life Cohort Feasibility Study receives funding from the Economic and Social Research Council
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