An early intervention programme trialed in north Dublin has significantly improved outcomes for children’s IQ and behaviour.
The first in a series of results from the pilot project also shows improved parenting skills and the home learning environment.
The Preparing for Life programme focused on intensively mentoring parents, in areas with low levels of school readiness, and worked with them from midway through pregnancy until their children stared primary school.
It was delivered in Dublin 17 and Dublin 5 by the Northside Partnership and evaluated by a team at the Geary Institute at University College Dublin.
The review shows that by age four the IQ scores of the intervention group children were 10 points higher than the control group.
A total of 13 per cent of the intervention group children scored below average for cognitive development at age four compared to 57 per cent for the control group.
Children whose parents received the intervention were also less likely to be overweight and had fewer behavioural problems.
Further findings show that intervention children were more likely to receive their recommended dietary allowance of protein and were immunised earlier.
Lead researcher for the study, Dr Orla Doyle, said the results were both statistically significant and practically meaningful.
“These are all statistically significant and in some cases dramatic results. The programme has changed the life trajectories of these children: they are healthier, smarter and well-adjusted.
“The results show that developing the skills and knowledge of parents is a particularly effective and impactful approach to changing and improving outcomes for children,” Dr Doyle said.
Parents taking part in the programme received approximately 50 home visits from trained mentors during the programme cycle.
The programme supported parents at each stage of their child’s development by providing tip sheets on age appropriate topics.
Mentors introduced new topics through a combination of role modelling, demonstration, coaching, discussion, encouragement and feedback.
The parents also had the opportunity to participate in a parenting course when their children reached age two.
Preparing for Life manager Noel Kelly called on the new Minister for Children Katherine Zappone to adopt the programme as a proven intervention which could be applied in other communities faced with school readiness challenges.
“Investment in supports for parents should be channelled towards programmes which have the strongest evidence of effectiveness and impact,” he said,
“Now that the programme has been developed, trialled, evaluated and manualised, we estimate that it would cost at most €2,000 per family per year to deliver.”
“We believe that parents are the most important resource we have to improve child outcomes. By investing in and enabling parents, Preparing for Life has demonstrated that it is possible to significantly transform children’s lives,” he said.
The programme is a community-led prevention and early intervention initiative operated by Northside Partnership.
It was established in 2007 with funding from the Atlantic Philanthropies and the Department of Children.
* The full evaluation of the programme is available at www.preparingforlife.ie