A Better Start National Evaluation: Launching the second round of reports

The national evaluation of A Better Start is being undertaken by the ABS national evaluation team led by the National Centre for Social Research.

We are delighted to be launching three reports containing interim findings from the A Better Start national evaluation. They are: 

A Better Start (ABS) is a ten-year (2015-2025), £215 million programme set up by The National Lottery Community Fund. There are five ABS partnerships based in Blackpool, Bradford, Lambeth, Nottingham, and Southend-on-Sea, each aiming to support families to give their babies and very young children the best possible start in life. The national evaluation is being delivered by NatCen, University of Sussex, RSM, Research in Practice, and The National Children’s Bureau. More information about ABS and the protocol for the national evaluation can be found here

These three reports mark the halfway point of the national evaluation. Interim findings focus on how ABS is delivered and the experiences that Early Years providers and families have with it. The final results of the evaluation, which will include outcomes and cost-consequence analysis, will be presented in 2026.

Emerging evidence suggests that ABS services are broadly delivered in line with the mechanisms described in the programme Theory of Change (ToC). These mechanisms are the ways in which ABS is delivered that can enhance quality and outcomes of services. The mechanisms for ABS are organised on the ToC under the categories of adaptive design (e.g. local adaptation, and continuous, evidence-based improvement), inclusion, engagement and empowerment (e.g. effective outreach and engagement, and reducing barriers), and collaborative working, effective governance and capacity. The approaches used to delivery ABS are valued by both Early Years providers and families. While the reports present ways that ABS is working well and able to deliver services in line with the mechanisms described in the ToC, findings also highlight challenges of delivering ABS from perspectives of delivery partners and families, particularly around barriers to engagement and participation. 

Many of the findings presented here reinforce those that were highlighted in the first annual report and go further in illustrating the complexity and dynamism of ABS services, family life for those who take part in ABS services, and the interplay between the two. Wrapping around these experiences are the findings which illuminate the evolution of a long term funded programme and how it responds to changes in the delivery context and emerging needs. Continuity of relationships and working in partnership with parents/carers and other services is considered particularly valuable and can scaffold engagement with a network of varied, flexible and responsive support services.

Findings suggest that ABS provision plays a multi-faceted role in alleviating the financial and emotional pressures of raising children. This is observed in both the qualitative findings and in quantitative findings from the economic evaluation where analysis shows the variation in how delivery partnerships have allocated spend to outcomes over the funding period.

The themed report on parental engagement illuminates how parents engage with ABS across a spectrum of being active participants in ABS services through to involvement in co-production. It explores the impact that parental engagement has on the quality of services and outcomes. 

The local evidence synthesis brings together evaluation evidence that has been produced in each ABS delivery area. Some of this evaluation work has been commissioned externally while others have been produced internally by the ABS delivery partnerships as part of their monitoring, evaluation and learning processes. Findings from this work are presented to align with the mechanisms on the ABS theory of change. 

NatCen is hosting a webinar where we will discuss the findings presented in the annual report and next steps for the evaluation. Register for the event here. At this webinar, you will have an opportunity to hear more about the findings and ask questions to the evaluation team. 

ABS Lockup 2024