Born early: Early care and education experiences of young children born prematurely

Researchers

Dr Carolyn Blackburn, Research Fellow, Early Childhood Studies

Dr Merryl Harvey, Reader in Nursing

Background

Each year in England, around 10,000 children are born very preterm (at less than 32 weeks gestation) and a further 60,000 are born moderately preterm (at 32-36 weeks gestation). The number of preterm births has increased in the last two decades, and more preterm children are surviving due to improved neonatal care (National Neonatal Audit Programme, 2015).

However, the prevalence of cognitive, behavioural and emotional problems in preterm populations has not changed. In particular, children born preterm have been found to experience specific learning problems including difficulties with mathematics, visual-spatial skills, memory and attention.

There is still much we do not know about the nature and spectrum of these learning difficulties, their long term consequences, and how to deal with them. In particular, there is controversy about whether moderately preterm children experience similar but milder learning problems than children born very preterm. Teachers and educational psychologists receive little formal training about preterm birth and are often not aware of appropriate strategies to support preterm children in the classroom. Informing teachers about the special constellation of problems following preterm birth is crucial in preparing them to support the growing number of preterms entering schools in the coming years (Campbell, 2015; Carpenter et al., 2015).

Studies have explored parents’ experiences of having a child born prematurely. However, these studies have generally focused on the months immediately following the birth and have taken a health and social care perspective (Harvey el al, 2013; Garfield et al, 2014; Gray et al, 2013). Quantitative studies have also examined the development of children who were born prematurely and have identified the learning difficulties that they face during early childhood (Marlow, 2004; Johnson et al, 2010; Costeloe 2012). Parents’ experiences of early years education is an under-researched area.

The benefits of early care and education early intervention (EI) have been well documented in policy and research in terms of improving outcomes for children at risk of or identified with SEN. Whilst not all children born prematurely will be identified with Special Educational Needs, ongoing monitoring of their learning and development (as is evident from Carolyn’s work at the Champion Centre, NZ) has the potential to ameliorate any future delays or difficulties.

Aim of research

This study aims to explore the early care and education experiences of children born prematurely through reports from parents. Research questions include:

  1. What are the early social experiences of young children born prematurely (as reported by parents)?
  2. What are parents' memories of their children's developmental milestones?
  3. Where children are attending early years settings, what are parents experiences of this, were there any difficulties/problems in finding suitable childcare provision?
  4. What advice/support do early years workers need to support children born prematurely and their families?
Method of research

The first phase of the research will be a family survey. Take part in the survey here.

Outcomes

Although this study is in the first phase, it is hoped that the outcomes of this research will ultimately help to identify best practice in early care and education, as well as provide advice and guidance for policy-makers and early educators.

On Monday 6 June, our new Visiting Fellow in Interdisciplinary Working and Research with Families, Dr. Susan Foster-Cohen gave an International Guest Lecture on the Bio-psycho-social consequences of premature birth. Her slides can be downloaded below.

Download Dr Foster-Cohen's lecture slides

Watch the guest lecture

On Friday 14 July 2017, an interdisciplinary conference was held at Birmingham City University to raise awareness and highlight this project and other current research on this topic. 

Presentations from the day can be found here: