Concerns have grown regarding the increased prevalence of social, emotional and behavioural difficulties observed in young children in primary school settings. Contributory factors are multiple and varied but one consistent emphasis has been on the negative effects of children’s poor attachments with significant others which, due to contextual factors, may not have developed sufficiently. Some groups of children are more at risk of not developing strong attachments, particularly children in care whose ‘pre-care’ and ‘in care’ experiences make it more likely that their attachments will have been adversely impacted. Reflecting this increasing concern, there has been a growth of school-based interventions that aim to strengthen attachments in order that children can develop social and emotional skills; thus enabling them to be better placed to access learning opportunities and reach levels of educational achievement and attainment similar to their peers. One such intervention is Nurture Groups, modelled on attachment theory. Nurture Group provision is a short-term, schools-based intervention targeted at individual children beginning school who are already displaying social, emotional and/or behavioural difficulties. This article reports the findings of one of the first larger-scale evaluations of the effectiveness of Nurture Group provision in improving outcomes of children, and the first to explore the differential effects of Nurture Groups in relation to school-, pupil- and programme-level characteristics. The evaluation used a non-random control group design, involving a total sample of 384 children, aged 5-6 years, from 30 Nurture Group schools and a further 14 matched schools with no Nurture Group provision in Northern Ireland. The trial found effect sizes ranging in magnitude from g = .528 to 1.352 for a range of social, emotional and behavioural outcomes, using the Boxall Profile and the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. However, no evidence of effects was found for academic outcomes. The article discusses the implications for policy and practice of the findings.
- Children in care
- Educational intervention
- Nurture Groups
- Social, emotional and behavioural difficulties
- Young children
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Sociology and Political Science