Lifestart Foundation Limited

Lifestart Foundation Limited

2 Springrowth House
Balliniska Road
BT48 0GG
United Kingdom

The Lifestart Foundation is a charitable body offering the Growing Child — a parent-directed child-centred learning programme on child development delivered to parents of children aged from birth to five years of age.

The Lifestart Growing Child Programme

The Growing Child programme is an evidence-based, early intervention and prevention home visitation programme for parents of children aged birth to five years.  The curriculum based programme is designed to achieve better child development outcomes by educating parents on how young children develop and learn through their different ages and stages.

The programme aims to:

  • Support parents in their parenting role
  • Make expert child development knowledge available and accessible to parents
  • Educate parents on how young children develop and learn
  • Promote the home learning environment
  • Enhance partnership working between parents and schools and communities


How the programme is delivered:

The programme is delivered through monthly visits by a trained family visitor who will share the age appropriate, evidence based information with parents.  They will work through practical activities with the parent and child in ways that enable parents to apply and evaluate this knowledge in the context of their own situation and experiences.

The family visitor focuses on strengthening parent-child bonds and on promoting parent-child interactions that will support learning and development.  By illustrating the importance of conversations, listening, gestures, language, movement, play and learning interactions, the family visitor promotes emotional attachment, creativity and social skills, as well as physical and intellectual development. 


Outcomes for Parents:

  • More knowledge of child development and greater parental efficacy
  • Better and more stable relationships with their children
  • Less stressed and better able to cope with parenting
  • Promoting a home learning environment
  • More sensitive and responsible to their child’s varied needs
  • Increased awareness of the importance of play and interaction with their child

Outcomes for Children:

  • Better child/parent attachment and bonding
  • Better development outcomes in terms of physical, emotional and mental health
  • Good cognitive and non-cognitive skills
  • Good speech, language and communication skills
  • Positive self-identity and self esteem
  • Resiliency, coping skills, capacity to self-regulate
  • School ready

The programme is supported by a well-developed library of age appropriate books, toys, music, art materials and learning resources that parents can use to enhance parent/child interaction, to scaffold learning and to encourage language, cognitive, and social and emotional development.

In working to a strengths based approach, focusing on how young children develop and learn, the Lifestart programme is considered by parents to be less stigmatising than other ‘deficit’ models where the focus tends to lie in targeting the skills of a parent.  The work of Lifestart complements many programmes, but our uniqueness is in working with regularity, longevity and intensity on a one-to-one basis with families, including those perceived as ‘hard to reach’ and ‘at-risk’, promoting a supportive relationship and therefore achieving consistently high levels of engagement.



Considerable evidence, albeit qualitative, has previously been collected and analysed by various independent evaluators (McGuinness, 1990; McNelis & Kelleher, 1995; NUIG, 1998[1]), some concluding that “established projects are a resource for the statutory sector and the expertise and experience should not be wasted”.  The study in 1998 indicated that there were high levels of satisfaction with the service among service users, further evidenced by low dropout rates from the programme.

In 2007 a rigorous and comprehensive longitudinal evaluation of the Lifestart Growing Child Programme was launched aimed at measuring the impact of the programme on child development outcomes.  The study is using a fully experimental methodology based on a 424 family RCT and is being conducted by the Centre for Childcare Research and the Department of Education at Queen’s University, Belfast.  The full results will be available in 2014.  This research is being funded by the Atlantic Philanthropies.

An Interim Report of the Lifestart RCT documents that the programme is starting to impact on children’s outcomes.  Most notably parents in the intervention group are reporting significantly (statistically) greater parental efficacy/confidence than the control group.  This effect is consistent with the Lifestart logic model, which suggests that the initial impact of the Lifestart Growing Child Programme is to improve parental outcomes, which includes confidence and efficacy.

Reviews of the evidence available from parenting interventions in the UK and Ireland have suggested that:

  • educating parents is more effective than intervening directly with children
  • children are better off if intervention takes place early
  • the most effective interventions are those which take place in the parent’s home
  • the programmes that work best are those which provide regularity and intensity of inputs through one-to-one home visits over at least a year
  • two to three years of intervention are more likely to sustain gains over time
  • parenting programmes are most efficacious for ‘at-risk’ families

all of which are facilitated through the Lifestart Growing Child Programme.

Other Lifestart Programmes

At Home In School

The At Home In School programme is a one year transition programme that works in partnership with nursery / primary schools to support parents and their young children as they prepare for the experience of starting school.  Parents receive two short visits per month, in their home for the six months prior to their child starting school, and one visit per month for the six months after.

A trained family visitor will present information, demonstrate learning activities, provide support and information to parents which in turn will promote confidence and lower anxieties at what can be a stressful time.  In turn, children can gain appropriate learning and social skills, enhanced confidence, independence and self-esteem.

The At Home In School programme is currently being independently evaluated.


Lifestart Spirals Programme

Spirals is a group parenting programme for parents of children aged from birth to three years of age.  The programme provides an introduction to a range of relevant topics, and child development issues for parents and caregivers.  Play is a central theme of the programme with interactive sessions on play each week.  The delivery method is fun and varied with lots of discussion and practical tips on how to support babies and toddlers as they grow and learn.  This programme is ideal for younger parents.


Delivery is innovative with use of ‘YouTube’ clips to illustrate key developmental concepts sourced from the Growing Child.  Group quizzes, group discussions and ‘hands on’ demonstrations are used throughout the programme - ‘Powerpoint style’ presentations are avoided. Delivery of the programme can be flexible and designed to meet specific needs.  Participation in the Lifestart Spirals Programme helps to raise awareness about a number of key parenting and child developmental issues including:


l    Bonding & Attachment                                          l        Feeding & Nutrition

l    Parenting Styles & Managing Behaviour              l        Children’s holistic development

l    Keeping Children safe from harm                        l        The importance of play for                                     children’s well being



Measured Outcomes


The measurable outcomes from the Spirals programme include confident and informed young parents who can positively engage with their existing informal networks and be active participants within their communities.  There are also improvements in the young parents self-efficacy measured in a number of domains including relationships, enjoyment, setting boundaries, self-acceptance and learning.  Outcomes also include children who are healthy both physically and mentally and are being supported in active learning by their young parents.  These impacts are measured using a pre and post programme evaluation tool which has been designed in conjunction with the Child and Family Research Centre, NUI Galway and the University of Hertfordshire.

[1] McNeillis C., and Kelleher, C. (1998) An evaluation of the Lifestart Early Learning Programme: with reference to the Community Mothers and Ar Leic an Teallaigh Programmes.  Galway: Centre for Health Promotion, University College Galway

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