Parents Thriving in the Early Years

Patrick Myers

By Patrick Myers

On Wednesday, June 19th, we were delighted to host our Parents Thriving in the Early Years event in partnership with Staffordshire University. At Thrive at Five, we work collectively to unite and improve local early years systems and services, strengthening networks of support around children and families from pregnancy to age 5.

We believe that unlocking the power of parents is key to improving outcomes for children, and our local teams focus on connecting parents, carers and the local system to shape and support early childhood development together. Research shows that positive early childhood development is a strong predictor of later health and happiness in life. Therefore, it is vital that we do everything possible to ensure the best early years experiences for children, and parents are critical to achieving this.

This event was aimed at providing an opportunity for local early years professionals to learn, connect and share ideas about how we can create environments where parents can thrive together.



Our keynote speaker on the day, Sally Hogg, The Centre for Research on Play in Education, Development, and Learning (PEDAL) at University of Cambridge shared some important insights about the importance of the relationship parents and carers have within the first 1001 days. Sally shared a video with us about “serve and return,” a technique for building relationships with children that happens mostly naturally in the day-to-day lives of parents and their young ones in their home environment,.

Simple activities like peekaboo and adults responding to babbling help to build bonds as well as a baby’s social and communication skills.

"Relationships between parents and their children are really where the magic happens, where we really can make a difference,"

One of the highlights of the event was Thrive at Five’s very own Parent Connector Danika who shared her journey from a parent to a Parent Champion, and now a Parent Connector. Danika’s story exemplifies the core values we hold at Thrive at Five. Her transformation and dedication to supporting other parents demonstrate the power of listening, collaboration, kindness, and endurance., as well as the impact unlocking the power of parents can have on their child’s outcomes. Danika has become a beacon of hope and a source of strength for many parents and carers in her community, showing that with the right support, everyone can thrive.

There was universal recognition that making a difference, at scale, to the outcomes of many more children requires the professional early years system to work hand in hand with parents and carers. We were joined by local parents Adam, Danika, Sophie, Paige and 9-month-old baby Dakota, who bravely took to the stage to share their experiences; the positives, the challenges, and how they would like to engage with professionals and services. Their moving and frank accounts were met with a standing ovation.

We also had the privilege of hearing from other speakers, including Colin Smy, Nina Gilbert, and Sarah Carter who shared their experiences and knowledge about parental engagement from a range of perspectives

Nina Gilbert, 0-2 Development Lead at Thrive at Five, highlighted the importance of building connections and the crucial role that the parent connector has. She emphasised how parent connectors build bridges between families and essential services, fostering strong, supportive relationships. Nina shared how this approach empowers parents and enhances early childhood development by ensuring families have the resources and support they need.

Nina Gilbert

Colin Smy

Colin Smy, from Blackpool Better Start, shared insights on their successful early childhood initiatives. He highlighted the importance of community-driven programs and collaborative efforts in improving outcomes for children and families. Learn more about their impactful work here.

Sarah Carter from the Midlands Partnership Foundation Trust has been a fantastic partner in our work since Thrive at Five arrived. As the team leader for the 0-19 integrated health visitor and school nursing service in Bentilee, Sarah has over 30 years of nursing experience. She emphasised the crucial role health visitors play in supporting new parents, especially during vulnerable times. Despite pandemic challenges and service restructuring, Sarah’s team has maintained their dedication to building trusted relationships with families, ensuring they receive essential health support and guidance.

Sarah Carter

Parent Survey: We asked they said: Denise Coster, Senior Research and Evaluation Manager, and Imogen Hirsch, Director of Design, Development and Strategic Planning shared some key findings from a survey which Thrive at Five convened in April-May 2024, in the wards of Bentilee and Abbey Hulton. The survey results highlighted the need for more accessible information, resources and support systems for parents. Many parents expressed a desire for better communication channels and opportunities to share their experiences and challenges. It also gave us insight into how the early years system needs to think carefully about how interactions and messages to parents are communicated, with 60% of the respondents suggesting that they avoid seeking help and support because of the fear of judgment. We need to work on ways that encourage parents to seek support when they need it.

The Parents Thriving in the Early Years conference was an incredibly positive event, reflecting our dedication to supporting parents and ensuring the best outcomes for children, and the importance of allowing time and space for those working to do this to come together to learn, share and connect We are grateful to everyone who participated and shared their knowledge and experiences. Together, we will continue to build a brighter future for our children.

"We don't want to be falling with style, we want to be ambitious and reach for the sky with our children and parents."