Data bank could ensure early intervention research for years to come

AN eight-year study into the effectiveness of early intervention programs in an historically disadvantaged community in Ireland could have research implications that last a lot longer than the original study.

Dr Orla Doyle

Dr Orla Doyle

Funded by Atlantic Philanthropies and the Irish Government, the experimental evaluation of the Preparing for Life early childhood intervention in a community in Dublin, Ireland, is now reaching the end of its data collection period.

Principal investigator Orla Doyle, a lecturer and research fellow from University College Dublin’s Geary Institute for Public Policy, was in Australia recently as part of her work with the University of Queensland’s Life Course Centre and the Parenting and Family Support Centre.

UQ’s Life Course Centre unites researchers from across the country and around the world to address the problem of deep and persistent disadvantage. Part of this work involves evaluations of population-level rollouts of the Triple P – Positive Parenting Program in disadvantaged Australian communities.

As an economist, Dr Doyle is interested in exploring how early interventions can reduce inequality across the life course from both a biological and economic perspective.

In a presentation to researchers from UQ, she explained that Europe had lagged behind other countries when it came to developing evidence on the effectiveness of home-based early interventions.

“All that changed when Atlantic Philanthropies and the Irish Government launched an early intervention and prevention program in 2004 which meant that in order for programs to be funded, they had to be subject to evaluation using experimental or quasi-experimental designs,” Dr Doyle said.

Preparing for Life is a “home-grown” five-year program involving bi-monthly home visits beginning during pregnancy and lasts until the children start school.

The program was offered to all women who were pregnant within one of the most disadvantaged communities in Dublin. Within that community of 6400, 33 per cent of residents depend on social welfare, 60 per cent live in social housing, 47 per cent are lone mothers, 16 per cent are unemployed and 66 per cent are early school leavers.

The program drew participation from 52 per cent of pregnant women within the community. Of this group, only 18 per cent were married, about a quarter had been diagnosed with a mental health condition, around a 30 per cent of pregnancies were planned and 50 per cent of the sample smoked during pregnancy.

Early indications are that the program is associated with a drop in caesarean section deliveries to 15 per cent of the population, in line with World Health Organization recommendations, and may have reduced how much time children are watching TV alone.

The Preparing for Life data collection has involved eight home-based interviews of mothers from during pregnancy to when their children are aged five, direct assessments of children’s cognitive skills, executive function and delay of gratification capabilities up to age four, physiological data and diaries and links to administration records including birth and child health records, teacher-reported data and interviews with children using puppets.

But for Dr Doyle, what is also exciting is that an interdisciplinary team of economists, epidemiologists and psychologists have used statistical methods which have the potential to improve the internal validity of randomised controlled trials.

Following her presentation, Dr Doyle announced that the principal funder Atlantic Philanthropies had provided new funding to establish a publicly accessible databank of all the data collected from the various early intervention projects around the country, a project which is expected to take two years .

Dr Doyle said Atlantic Philanthropies had also agreed to extend this funding to provide grants for researchers who want to access and investigate this data.

An interview with Dr Doyle following her presentation is below:

Papers from this study already published include:

  • Doyle, O., McGlanaghy, E., Palamaro Munsell, E., McAuliffe, F. (2014) “Home based educational intervention to improve perinatal outcomes for a disadvantaged community: a randomised control trial”. European Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 180: 162-167.
  • Booth, A. Palamaro Munsell, E., Doyle, O. (2014) “Maternal Engagement in a Home Visiting Intervention: What Lies beneath Psychological Resources?” Journal of Community Psychology, 42(1): 29-46.
  • Doyle, O. (2013). “Breaking the Cycle of Deprivation: An Experimental Evaluation of an Early Childhood Intervention”. Journal of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland, Vol. XLI, 92-111.

Working papers include:

  • Doyle O, Fitzpatrick, N., Rawdon C, Lovett J. “Early intervention and child health: Evidence from a Dublin-based trial”. UCD School of Economics Working Paper WP15/11.
  • Daly M, Delaney L, Doyle O, Fitzpatrick N, O’Farrelly C. “Can Early Intervention Policies Improve Well-being? Evidence from a randomized controlled trial”. UCD School of Economic Working Paper October 2014 WP14/15.
  • Doyle, O., Harmon, C., Heckman, J., Logue, C., Moon. S. “Measuring Investment in Human Capital Formation: An Experimental Analysis of Early Life Outcomes” mimeo. NBER Working Paper, No. 19316.