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8,000 babies to participate in childhood study following COVID

The first new national birth cohort study of babies in more than two decades has been launched by UCL researchers.

More than 8,000 babies and parents are being invited to participate in the study at a time of huge significance for the country as it emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Study director, Professor Pasco Fearon, UCL Psychology & Language Sciences and the University of Cambridge, said: “More than 75 years ago, the first British birth cohort study, which is housed at UCL, was launched to track the lives of babies born just after the war. And now, Children of the 2020s will provide vital evidence about the early years as families navigate their way out of the COVID-19 pandemic and through the cost of living crisis.”

Commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE), the study - which will be led by UCL researchers in partnership with Ipsos and the universities of Cambridge and Oxford and Birkbeck, University of London - will follow children during the first five years of their lives, and potentially beyond, shedding new light on the factors that can influence their development in the early years.

Tens of thousands of letters are now being sent out across the country to more than 8,000 parents and their babies, inviting them to participate in the “Children of the 2020s” study.

The families randomly selected to take part have babies currently aged nine months old and will soon be visited by the study’s interview team, starting from next week, to answer questions about their child’s development, family circumstances and their own lives.

The study, which is funded initially for five years, will ask parents about their child’s development, their neighbourhood and family context, family structure, health and mental health, the home learning environment, and formal and informal childcare provision and preschool education.

The researchers will invite parents to use a smartphone app to log their baby’s language and development, while receiving news and tips from the team of experts. With parents’ consent, routine administrative data, held by government departments, such as family health, educational and social care records, will be linked to their survey data, which will provide the research team with a more detailed picture of participants’ lives.

Professor Fearon added: “Our first five years are a crucial developmental period in our lives, - every new experience can play a pivotal role in how we fare later on.

“This new study will investigate how children develop and the circumstances and early years services that can make a difference. By understanding how these factors impact their development, we can learn how to support them, so they are able to make the best start at school and flourish as they are growing up.”

Children and Families Minister, Will Quince MP, said: “This is an important study that will provide an insight into the crucial early years of a child’s life and a wealth of evidence about their development and educational outcomes. We know the pandemic has created unique challenges for families and I’d like to thank the thousands who will be participating in this study over the next five years.

“We are committed to supporting families, including through a multi-million-pound package to transform services, which will create Family Hubs in half of all local authorities and provide important advice to parents and carers through the Start for Life offer,” he added.

Children of the 2020s joins UCL’s rich portfolio of cohort studies, which follow the lives of people born in 1946, 1958, 1970, 1989-90 and 2000-02.

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