The efficacy of early childhood interventions

The efficacy of early childhood interventions

Sarah Wise, Lisa da Silva, Elizabeth Webster and Ann Sanson

Research Report No. 14 — March 2006
The efficacy of early childhood interventions

This report works towards producing an evidence base concerning the efficacy of early childhood interventions in Australia.

Thirty-two Australian and international programs were evaluated on their design, implementation, effectiveness, and cost effectiveness, where possible. Cost-benefit analysis is discussed in more detail, as well as the lessons for early childhood intervention policy in Australia. The details of the 108 programs initially identified and the 32 selected for review are included in appendixes.   


Director's foreword

I am delighted that the Australian Institute of Family Studies could be involved in the research resulting in this report. Prepared cooperatively with the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, it represents an important step forward in establishing an evidence base concerning the efficacy of early childhood interventions in the current Australian context.

Although it is widely acknowledged that early childhood provides a unique window of opportunity for optimising children's capacity for learning, as well as a period where adverse experiences can have serious long-term effects, much less is known about how to transform this knowledge into effective interventions, nor how much investment should be made in these initiatives.

Information about effectiveness of programs currently operating in Australia is especially thin on the ground. One cannot assume that any type of intervention in early childhood will pay long-term dividends. Some interventions are more effective than others but, importantly, some are more cost-effective. It is necessary to scrutinise the evidence about cost effectiveness. As such, the report is especially timely, given the widespread interest in early intervention and prevention, not only across the nation but also internationally.

Cost-effectiveness has not been a particular focus in Australia. Such information is necessary to distinguish those initiatives that are worthy of investment and those that are not.

It is prudent that government is focusing on this issue, and appropriate that the Australian Institute of Family Studies and the Melbourne Institute should be supporting the Australian Government endeavours. The Institute is actively researching across areas such as crime prevention, prevention of drug and alcohol misuse, child abuse prevention, family and relationship support. These are important contributions to the Australian knowledge base. The availability of the Melbourne Institute's economic expertise has made for a very productive and complementary collaboration.

It is clear that early childhood interventions are generally worthy investments. It is my hope that governments and other stakeholders will accept the guidance contained in this report about how to produce knowledge about the returns on public investment that different pro- grams produce. Children, families, and ultimately society, can all benefit from this knowledge.

I am grateful to the authors of this report, Sarah Wise and Lisa da Silva from the Australian Institute of Family Studies, and Elizabeth Webster from the Melbourne Institute and Ann Sanson now at the University of Melbourne, on their valuable contribution to the literature on early intervention and prevention. I am also grateful to the Family and Children's Policy Branch of the Australian Government Department of Family and Community Services for its support in commissioning this work.

Professor Alan Hayes
Director
Australian Institute of Family Studies

Authors and Acknowledgements

Ms Sarah Wise is a Principal Research Fellow at the Australian Institute of Family Studies. She has a background in developmental psychology, and has a research interest in child welfare, non-parental child care and parent-child relationships. As an Institute researcher, Sarah has managed research projects in the areas of foster care, family support, child protection, child care and early childhood interventions.

Dr Lisa da Silva is a Senior Research Officer at the Australian Institute of Family Studies. Lisa has a background in clinical psychology and has completed a Doctor of Clinical Psychology (Child, Adolescent and Family). Her research interests are in early childhood and non-parental child care. At the Institute, she has worked on projects relating to child care, early childhood interventions and adolescence.

Dr Elizabeth Webster is Director of the Applied Microeconomics section of the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, and Associate Director of the Intellectual Property Research Institute of Australia. She has completed a PhD and a Master of Economics. Beth has undertaken research on the economics of innovation, intellectual property, training and human capital formation, occupational change and labour market programs in Australia.

Associate Professor Ann Sanson is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Melbourne, where her teaching and research are child and adolescent development in the context of families and communities. She was formerly Acting Director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies and is the Project Director for Growing Up in Australia (the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children).


The authors are grateful to Peter Dawkins and Roger Wilkins of the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research for their advice and detailed comments on drafts of this report. Thanks are also due to Louise Hayes of the Australian Institute of Family Studies, who helped document and assess a portion of the early childhood interventions included in the evaluation. 


This report was commissioned by the Australian Government Department of Family and Community Services. It is the product of the collaboration between the Australian Institute of Family Studies and the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research.

Australian Institute of Family Studies
The Australian Institute of Family Studies is Australia's national centre for research and information on families. Now in its 25th year, the Institute's research on issues that affect family stability and wellbeing play a key role in the development of family policy and informed debate in Australia. The Institute is a statutory authority established by the Australian Government in February 1980.

Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research
The Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research is Australia's leading economic and social research institute. For 40 years it has carried out economic and social research and has developed a reputation as one of Australia's foremost social science research centres. It publishes the Australian Economic Review, the Quarterly Bulletin of Economic Trends, and the Australian Social Monitor in addition to regular reports on economics indicators.

Publication details

Research Report
No. 14
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, March 2006.
124 pp.
ISSN: 
1447-1447
ISBN: 
0 642 39527 6
Suggested citation:

Wise, S., da Silva, L., Webster, E., & Sanson, A. (2006). The efficacy of early childhood interventions (Research Report No. 14). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.

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