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Testing the ‘incredible’ route to children’s and parents’ wellbeing

Posted on 17 March 2015

A pioneering research project led by the University of York will evaluate newly-developed programmes that aim to improve the social and emotional wellbeing of children under two and their parents.

The four-year project led by the Institute for Effective Education (IEE) at York, with colleagues from the University’s Departments of Health Sciences, Social Work and Social Policy and Centre for Health Economics, is backed by a £1.85 million grant from the NIHR (National Institute for Health Research). The study also includes co-investigators from the universities of Plymouth, Central Lancashire, Sheffield, and Maynooth, with initial partners including Action for Children, Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust, and Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council.

The multi-disciplinary research team aim to evaluate the effectiveness and acceptability of Incredible Years (IY) Parent Programmes for 0-2 year-olds. Evidence from research around the world suggests that the BASIC IY programme -- for parents of children aged 3+ years -- enhances child and parent wellbeing. The more recently developed IY parent programmes for infants and toddlers have shown promising results in two small trials in Wales and Boston, US, yet have not yet been rigorously evaluated in England.

The study will feature an 18-month randomised pilot in Devon and Lancashire followed by a 30-month main randomised trial in four local authority areas. It will involve a total of 900 families and will seek to assess the impact of IY particularly on those parents and carers at risk of developing depression.

A group of 650 primary carers will receive IY interventions while a comparison group of 250 will be able to access services typically offered in their locality for this age range. Intervention group parents, along with co-parents, or other significant carers such as grandparents, will receive varying levels of IY proportionate to their needs.

The researchers will assess the primary outcomes when children are around 20 months old. These will focus on the child’s social and emotional wellbeing, and wellbeing among primary carers, co-parents and other significant carers.

The study will also assess parenting skills; parent-child attachment and interaction; parent and child access to health and social services; child behaviour; child language; quality of IY programme delivery; and health-related quality of life and cost.

Dr Tracey Bywater, of IEE at York, who is leading the study, said: “The home environment, and particularly parent practices and mental health of both mothers and fathers can impact significantly on a child’s social and emotional wellbeing and behaviour. Early experiences affect outcomes in later life such as educational attainment, and the ability to form secure relationships.

“There is considerable evidence to show that early mental health promotion is more effective, and less costly to the individual and to society, than late intervention. Our study will address an important knowledge gap by investigating the potential of two new IY parent programmes for the ‘under twos’ in the short, medium and possibly longer term.” 

The IY series was first developed in the USA in the 1970s by Professor Carolyn Webster-Stratton and now comprises programmes for parents of 0-12 year-olds, with complementary programmes for children and teachers.

The York-led study is taking place in parallel with a similar study in Ireland led by co-investigator Dr Sinéad McGilloway, of Maynooth University, Ireland.

This project was funded by the National Institute for Health Research Public Health Research (NIHR PHR) Programme (project number 13/93/10).

The views and opinions expressed therein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR PHR Programme or the Department of Health.

Further information:

  • For more information about IY, please visit
  • For more information about the Institute for Effective Education at the University of York, please visit
  • The National Institute for Health Research Public Health Research (NIHR PHR) Programme was launched in autumn 2008. It commissions research to evaluate public health interventions, providing new knowledge on the benefits, costs, acceptability and wider effect of non-NHS interventions intended to improve the health of the public and reduce inequalities in health. The scope of the programme is multi-disciplinary and broad covering a range of public health interventions. The PHR Programme is funded by the NIHR, with contributions from the CSO in Scotland, NISCHR in Wales and the HSC R&D Division, Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland.
  •  The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is funded by the Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. Since its establishment in April 2006, the NIHR has transformed research in the NHS. It has increased the volume of applied health research for the benefit of patients and the public, driven faster translation of basic science discoveries into tangible benefits for patients and the economy, and developed and supported the people who conduct and contribute to applied health research. The NIHR plays a key role in the Government’s strategy for economic growth, attracting investment by the life-sciences industries through its world-class infrastructure for health research. Together, the NIHR people, programmes, centres of excellence and systems represent the most integrated health research system in the world. For further information, visit the NIHR website (
  • This article presents independent research funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health.

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