One of the most extensively conducted randomised controlled trials of an early childhood intervention program in Europe has shown that a home visiting program combined with the Triple P – Positive Parenting Program improved children’s cognitive development.
Results of a University College Dublin evaluation of the Preparing for life program include a finding that children in the high treatment group whose families participated in the full intervention had a 10-point IQ gap over children in the low treatment group.
Previous evidence of positive impacts of home visiting programs on children’s cognitive development before starting school has been limited.
As the study’s evaluation report states:
Only a small number of studies have found favourable intervention effects during the early years . . However, the results are mixed and there is much variation in the effect sizes found by different programmes (Filene et al., 2013).
Preparing for Life (PFL) is a community-led initiative operated by the Northside Partnership in North Dublin and was evaluated over a seven-year period by the UCD Geary Institute under the direction of Dr Orla Doyle, an economist who has been awarded the Barrington Medal for her work in the economic and social sciences.
More than 200 families in designated disadvantaged areas of Dublin were involved in the trial, with the program aiming to help parents develop skills to help their children in five domains of school readiness:
- cognitive development
- physical health and motor skills
- social, emotional & behavioural development
- approaches to learning
- language development and literacy
Parenting and Family Support Centre director and Professor of Clinical Psychology, Professor Matt Sanders, said PFL home-visiting mentors were trained to offer parents information about parenting and child development over a period of five years. They were also trained to deliver Triple P.
“Consequently, the principles and techniques of Triple P influenced the way in which mentors encouraged parents to interact with their children,” Professor Sanders said.
Access to a baby massage program was also available as well as access to additional Triple P programmes, such as Group Triple P.
The home visits started with mothers during pregnancy at 21 weeks and continued until the child started school at age four or five.
As part of the trial, a high treatment group received the full intervention, compared to a low-treatment group which did not receive the mentoring program, additional Triple P access or the baby massage program.
According to the final evaluation report, by school entry, the PFL program had a significant and large impact on children’s cognitive development. Children who received the high treatment supports had better general cognitive functioning, spatial abilities, non-verbal reasoning skills, and basic numeracy skills. This means that they were better at understanding information, seeing patterns, solving problems, and working with numbers.
Major impacts when the children were at school entry age included:
- children in the high treatment group had a 10 point IQ gap over children in the low treatment group
- 25 per cent of high treatment children had above-average verbal ability, compared to eight per cent of low treatment children
- High treatment children were better able to control their attention
- 25 per cent of high treatment children were not on track in their social competence compared to 43 per cent of low treatment children
- High treatment children had better gross and fine motor skills
More specifically, the program was shown to have a significant and large impact on:
- Children’s overall verbal ability
- Expressive and receptive language skills
- Communication and emerging literacy skills
PFL had some impact on how children approached learning. Children who received the high treatment supports were better able to manage their attention.
PFL had a significant impact on:
- Reducing children’s hyperactivity
- Reducing inattentive behaviours
- Improving social competencies and autonomy
The program had a significant impact on reducing the amount of hospital services the children used and improved how families used these services. And children in the high treatment group were less likely to:
- Visit the hospital for urgent reasons
- Experience fractures
- Visit the orthopaedics, physiotherapy, paediatrics, ocular and plastic surgery outpatient departments
PFL also had a significant impact on
- Children’s gross motor skills
- Children’s fine motor skills
- Physical independence
(Graphics used in this blog post have been sourced with permission from the final evaluation of Preparing for life by University of College Dublin’s Geary Institute.)