Results from an Australian early years education program finds that delays in development and learning for children living with significant adversity can be reduced or reversed through participation in the targeted program.
New findings from a landmark research trial show that a targeted early years education and care program can significantly improve IQ, social-emotional development and resilience for children who experience extreme adversity.
The Early Years Education Program (EYEP) is an innovative Australian centre-based model of education and care designed to meet the particular needs of young children facing significant family stress and social disadvantage.
EYEP has a dual focus: to address the consequences of significant family stress and social disadvantage on children’s development and to redress learning deficiencies.
In randomised controlled trial a consortium of researchers, in partnership with the Children’s Protection Society (now trading as KidsFirst), are investigating EYEP’s impact. Children were aged 0-3 years when they commenced in the trial. If assigned to EYEP they were offered three years of education and care in the program; and children in the control group received ‘usual care’, a mix of parental and guardian care as well as care and education provided by other childcare centres or kindergartens.
Analysing the outcomes after 24 months, significant development improvements were identified. Large impacts of EYEP are found on both cognitive and non-cognitive development of children – primarily their IQ, resilience and social-emotional development with scores for social emotional and cognitive outcomes similar to the general population.
The children in the treatment group are 30 percentage points less likely than those in the control group to require clinical attention for social-emotional development.
The average IQ of children in the treatment group was up to seven points higher than those in the control group.
Children in the treatment group also showed improved resilience compared to the control group.
Together, these improvements suggest that children in the treatment group are more likely to start their school age education on an even level with their peers.
Dr Yi-Ping Tseng, a member of the research team working at the Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social Research, says that the impacts of attending EYEP on children after 24 months are broad and powerful.
“The results are encouraging as they show that children who are enrolled in the program stand a greater chance of avoiding a lifetime trajectory of compromised opportunities and disadvantage. There children will have a better chance of reaching their full potential.”
Key features of the targeted model include high staff/child ratios, qualified and experienced educators, an infant mental health consultant as a member of the staff, and a rigorous relationship-based curriculum informed by trauma and attachment theories.
Co-designer of EYEP, Associate Professor Brigid Jordan from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, explains that the design is informed by research evidence and practice wisdom in infant mental health, developmental psychology and early childhood education and care.
“All elements of the EYEP model are critically important and work in synergy to redress the negative impacts of toxic stress,” says Associate Professor Jordan.
“Improving brain development and emotional and behavioural regulation skills is vital. It is what provides the foundation needed for successful learning, good peer relationships, positive mental health and a healthy life with strong community connections.’
The EYEP trial has now been underway for over a decade. The researchers are currently analysing the 36 month results and will further analyse the impact of the program when the children in the treatment group start school.
Dr Alice Hill was Chair of the Board of the Children’s Protection Society when it made the decision to begin the trial more than 10 years ago and continues to be an advocate and supporter of the program.
“We set out to use the well-established science of early childhood to protect the development of young children facing adversity, to ensure they and their families were ready for school and success in life. The results from the EYEP model have exceeded expectations,” says Dr Hill.
Funding for the EYEP research trial has come from the Children’s Protection Society, the Commonwealth government, Victorian government, philanthropic organisations, individual donors and the Australian Research Council.