This blog post was contributed by Pauline Slot (Utrecht University).
Pedagogues, special education teachers or other types of specialists working in ECEC sometimes have to deal with teacher’s concerns about a child’s development, behaviour or home situation. It is good to know that programmes exist to help children and/or their parents. But how can one find the right programme and is the program even effective?
Also, policymakers at the local and national level need to know which aspects increase chances of success when considering the development and implementation of youth policy . Below we describe three important conditions:
Prevention or early intervention, when problems are still mild, is in the benefit of the child and family. Prevention programs can enhance children’s interpersonal, problem solving and cognitive competences, relations with adults and peers, school achievement, and reduce problem behaviour . Starting early, can prevent worsening of problems that can cause harm to the child and family. Especially family healthcare, which includes for instance regular health check-ups and vaccinations for young children, but also screening of children’s development supports healthy development of children. It supports parents in taking decisions that will benefit their children, such as healthy food choices when a child is at risk of obesity.
Use effective programs
In most countries many programs exist that target parenting, child-rearing practices or dealing with children’s problem behaviour. It is important to use programs that have proven to be effective in changing the targeted behaviour or skills. One such example is the famous Incredible Years (IY) program, which has proven to be effective in fostering parents’ positive parenting skills .
A (national) databank can be established to facilitate the use of evidence-based programs. This is for instance the case in the Netherlands with the Databank of effective youth interventions established by the Netherlands Youth Institute . This databank contains a large variety of prevention and intervention programs that cover many different topics. An independent committee of experts evaluates every program before it can be included in this databank. The databank then provides detailed information on the goals, methods and procedures of the program and it includes information on its effectiveness. This information provides professionals and also parents with the necessary information in order to take well informed decisions.
Establish a coherent, long-term cost-effective youth policy
There are two strategies for cost effective youth policy which are adopted, for instance, in the British policy Every Child Matters . The first concerns a small change for a large group of people whereas the second focuses on a large improvement for a small group of people.
To establish a small difference within a large group of people we need a collective prevention or public health approach. An example of such a program is Triple P: A program focused on positive parenting . This accessible program for parents with children from birth to 16 years old, supports parents in developing a positive parenting style that will help prevent emotional and behavioural problems in children. This program has shown to reduce child abuse by 25-35% and receives strong support from the World Health Organization .
The second strategy concerns targeted programs for specific at-risk groups who are thought to benefit a lot by the program. These programs can also be preventive and aimed at parenting or family problems that are still in an early stage, such as Home-start . This program is widely implemented in the UK and also in the Netherlands and has shown to have impact on families’ lives. Different types of support are given ranging from exchanging experiences and group support to home visiting.
In short, prevention and early intervention programs are important and cost-effective strategies that can have great impact. Two other aspects are important to consider.
- The first aspect marks a shift from a problem-oriented approach to a strengths-based approach focused at the empowerment of the families.
- Another important aspect includes a focus on the wider social context the family is part of . Although many prevention or early intervention programs initially focus on the family, there is increasing attention for the potential role of the larger community, such as relatives, friends, and neighbours, (pre)school and community services.
“It takes a village to raise a child”
It helps the child and the family if there is a concerted effort based on a shared positive, strengths-based approach. Good collaboration and integration of services can help to establish this shared effort. What can you do to improve outcomes for children and their families?
 Catalano, R., Berglund, M., Ryan, J., Lonczak, H., & Hawkins, D. (2004). Positive youth development in the United States: Research findings on evaluations of positive youth development programs. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 591(1), 98-124. doi:10.1177/0002716203260102
Durlak, J., Taylor, R., Kawashima, K., Pachan, M., DuPre, E., Celio, C., … & Weissberg, R. (2007). Effects of positive youth development programs on school, family and community systems. American Journal of Community Psychology, 39, 269-286. doi:10.1007/s10464-007-9112-5 Gardner, F., Leijten, P., Melendez-Torres, G. J., Landau, S., Harris, V., Mann, J., … & Scott, S. (2019). The earlier the better? Individual participant data and traditional meta-analysis of age effects of parenting interventions. Child Development, 90 (1), 7-19. doi:10.1111/cdev.13138  https://www.nji.nl/nl/Databank/Databank-Effectieve-Jeugdinterventies  Allen, G. (2011). Early intervention: smart investment, massive savings. London: The Cabinet Office.
Aos, S., Lieb, R., Mayfield, J., Miller, M. & Pennucci, A. (2004). Benefits and costs of prevention and early intervention programs for youth. Olympia: Washington State Institute for Public Policy.
Aos, S., Miller, M., & Drake, E. (2006). Evidenced-based public policy options to reduce future prison construction, criminal justice costs, and crime rates. Olympia: Washington State Institute for Public Policy.  https://www.triplep.net/files/5113/6068/0972/US_About_Triple_P.pdf  Preventing violence: Evaluating outcomes of parenting programmes retrieved from https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/85994/9789241505956_eng.pdf;jsessionid=AF1BE28A5519C96EE46C160A8842F384?sequence=1  https://www.home-start.org.uk and https://www.home-start.nl/over-home-start  Catalano et al., 2004, Durlak et al., 2007