By Dr Carolyn Blackburn, Senior Fellow in Early Childhood and Inclusion and Dr Merryl Harvey, Reader in Nursing, Birmingham City University.

Thursday 17th November marks World Prematurity Day. A global movement aimed at raising awareness of premature birth and the impact on families.

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 Special Educational Needs (SEN). Whilst not all children born prematurely will be identified with SEN, ongoing monitoring of their learning and development has the potential to ameliorate any future delays or difficulties.

New research

Researchers at Birmingham City University are set to embark on a new study, aimed at exploring the early care and education experiences of children born prematurely through reports from parents.

The survey is about family experiences of having a child/children born prematurely.  We want to find out what kind of support families are provided with, how accessible the support is, what kind of support is most helpful and what kind of support families would like to have received that wasn’t available to them.

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.

We are keen for as many families as possible to have the opportunity to take part. If you are interested in taking part or would like to find out further information about the study, please click here.


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