Our fairer start mission aims to narrow the outcome gap between children growing up in disadvantage and the national average.

Within the Nesta Cymru team we have the opportunity to design, test and scale projects and develop innovations that are specific to Wales and that respond to the challenges, opportunities and environment of the Welsh context.

Our team in Wales works with partners to identify opportunities to try new and different ideas that arise from the distinct political, cultural and economic landscape.

What’s the context in Wales?

Early years have long been a priority in Wales. Wales’ Flying Start programme is arguably the UK’s most integrated and holistic programme of support for families facing the challenges that poverty and low income brings. But the gap between outcomes for children from more advantaged backgrounds and their disadvantaged peers persists.

In Wales, children eligible for free school meals are twice as likely not to meet the expected level of development at age seven compared with children who are not eligible for them (36.2% vs 15.8%, 2019 figures). Wales has the highest child poverty rate in the UK, as well as the highest overall poverty rate in the UK nations.

However, there is a clear appetite to meet these challenges in Wales. The 2022 launch of the Curriculum for Wales shows we’re not afraid of radical reform. The growing focus on adverse childhood experiences and trauma-informed services shows that Wales is willing to think differently about how and why challenges arise for individuals, and the support that really makes a difference. There’s an appetite for innovation and risk (eg, the Basic Income trial) and initiatives such as Nest and the Early Years Integration Programme demonstrate a determination to grapple with the difficult questions of whole-systems approaches.

To maintain momentum and build on this work, our fairer start mission in Wales needs to:

  • maintain a strong focus on addressing inequity – even when increasing need can push us into thinking universal services are the best option
  • work with the evidence and ask hard questions about whether what we’re doing is working–- and go deeper in our efforts to understand who things are working for and why
  • listen to and work alongside families – and those whose work means they are closest to them – as well as experts

Our focus in Wales

Given the above context, we are focusing our work in Wales in the following areas.

Building parents’ capabilities

Parents and carers are the most important influence on babies and children, but raising a family is challenging.

Wales has a relatively established parenting support system, embedded through services such as Flying Start and Families First. Conversations with practitioners and experts in Wales tell us that we need to do more to build on this strong foundation to meet the changing needs of families in the 2020s. This includes thinking with rigour about the combinations of interventions on offer, the role of individual interventions alongside wider social contexts and how we can meet families where they are.

Our focus across the fairer start mission will be on interventions that encourage positive parent-child interaction in order to support children’s development. Our interests are wide-ranging, from shared reading and support for speech, language and communication, to play and the role of the arts in the early years.

We’re interested in supporting the design, testing and scaling of emerging and new interventions and delivery methods, including digital advances. We’re also interested in understanding gaps and opportunities in the current system of support for parents in Wales.

Working directly with the families at the heart of our mission is essential. We’ll be looking at ways to engage families as we design and develop new approaches, and using our innovation expertise to really understand families' experiences in Wales.

Data, information and intelligence across early years systems

Effective systems are built on sound information. In recent years, services in Wales have invested less in data systems than those in some other parts of the UK, but interest in and appetite for useful and usable data and data systems is increasing.

Relevant data includes robust information about outcomes, not least children’s developmental outcomes. Assessment reforms linked to the Curriculum for Wales mean we have to think differently and creatively about how we will understand children’s progress in the early years and as they start school in Wales.

We will start by looking at ways of optimising the way data is currently collected and used to support services to respond to the needs of children and families, and to focus on outcomes.

Longer term, we're interested in more ambitious innovation opportunities linked to assessment and outcomes-focused data in the early years.

Evidence-based policy: family income, childcare and future trends

Strong, evidence-based policy remains one of the best ways of achieving impact at scale. The proximity of policymakers to services in Wales and the strength of communication channels available creates real opportunities for collaboration and change.

We’ll be using our innovation and research expertise to explore some of the big questions in the fairer start mission. This will include a strong focus on income support for families. We'll interrogate the evidence on how income support can directly address the core challenge of poverty, with a view to running experimental trials that suit the needs of different parts of the UK.

We're also interested in questions related to early education and childcare, and in particular ensuring access to high- quality provision as a key action for addressing early years inequities and improving outcomes for less advantaged children.

We also want to look ahead to future trends and needs, from changing services to the impact of new technologies.

How will we work?

We approach these issues with a combination of scientific rigour and creative ideas. We draw on our expertise in data analytics, behavioural science, design, arts and culture and collective intelligence to tackle these problems and opportunities.