A SWINDON children’s charity has responded to the most recent findings emerging from a long-term study into how a child’s life chances are determined by the age of three.

Although the research makes for startling and upsetting reading, the West Swindon Family Centre has welcomed the findings as they highlight the need for further investment in early intervention for disadvantaged children.

The study in question is known as ‘The Dunedin Study’, based in New Zealand but involving researchers from the US and UK. The 40-year longitudinal study has followed over 1,000 individuals who were born between 1972 and 1973 and shows how it is possible to predict which three year olds will grow up to become criminals, which will claim benefits and which will have poor health in later life.

Far from gazing into a crystal ball, researchers used simple tests carried out with the participants when they were children. Back in the mid-1970s, each three year old was given a “brain health” rating based on the combined results from an assessment of their motor skills, language, social behaviour and IQ.

This rating has proved to be an accurate predictor of adult life. Those who scored poorly in the tests made up 20 per cent of the cohort at age three, but have subsequently accounted for 81 per cent of criminal convictions, 78 per cent of prescriptions and 66 per cent of welfare benefits in adulthood.

“The Dunedin findings will come as no surprise to those who work with disadvantaged children every day,” said Mike Smith, business development manager for West Swindon Family Centre. “But they serve to graphically illustrate just how strong the link is between a poor childhood and poor life outcomes.”

Based in Freshbrook, and supporting families for over 20 years, the charity aims to empower children and parents by reducing inequality, promoting positive life choices and strengthening relationships. It does this by delivering a range of ‘early intervention’ services and projects designed to give young children the very best start in life. The children’s charity has recently been awarded £7,500 from the Wiltshire Community Foundation to continue its vital work with the most disadvantaged children growing up in Swindon, through their Foundation Grant scheme.

“We are absolutely thrilled to receive the funds,” said Mike. “This will go directly towards helping to turn around the lives of many more vulnerable children. As the Dunedin Study shows, the earlier we can start working with disadvantaged children the better chance we have of being able to prevent them falling into a life of crime, benefits and ill-health.

“As a small local charity, we know our impact is limited, but every child’s life is precious to us and we are incredibly passionate about making the biggest possible difference with every child and family we support.”

Mike, and the charity’s, positivity shines brightly during these gloomy and austere times, as local authorities make tough choices about which services they can no longer maintain due to budget restraints. It comes as no surprise then, to learn that West Swindon Family Centre has a credible plan to become self-sufficient.

“I won’t lie to you,” Mike added. “The last few years have been really tough. Seeing our local authority funding repeatedly slashed has been frustrating. Not only has it led to us losing highly skilled and experienced practitioners, it has meant not being able to support as many children and families as we would have hoped.

“However, we saw the writing on the wall early and started putting strategic plans in place to become more self-sufficient by 2017. The result is our new social business, Panda Childcare, which sees our new Panda Day Nursery opening in Kembrey Park in January.”

The nursery will provide full and part time childcare all year round and be a sister setting to the charity’s existing pre-school which runs from their Centre in Freshbrook. The pre-school is rated ‘Good’ by Ofsted and has recently extended its age range to now accommodate children aged 2-5. As a true social business, all income generated through the pre-school and nursery, after costs, will be invested back into the community to support vulnerable children and families.