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Study: J'can early childhood intervention outshines US programmes

Published:Thursday | June 2, 2016 | 12:00 AMAndre Poyser
Members of the University of the West Indies Malnutrition Research Team (from left) Dr Joanne Smith, Dr Susan Chang-Lopez and Dr Christine Powell.

A study which assessed the labour market returns of an early childhood intervention programme developed by a research team at the Epidemiology Research Unit (ERU) at the University of the West Indies (UWI) has found that children who were involved in the programme are more likely to earn more as adults than children involved in similar programmes in the United States.

The study, which was conducted by a team of University of Chicago economists that involved Nobel Prize winner in economics Professor James Heckman, provided estimates of the labour market returns for the ERU intervention that gave

psychosocial stimulation and nutritional supplementation to stunted toddlers living in poverty in Jamaica.

"The estimated impacts found for Jamaica are substantially larger than the impacts reported for the US-based interventions," the study said of the intervention.

The intervention was designed as part of a research project by the ERU's Child Development Study Group, which involved Dr Susan Chang-Lopez, Dr Christine Powell, Professor Susan Walker, Dr Joanne Smith, and doctoral candidate Amika Wright. It utilised recycled materials to make toys, which were used by community health workers, during home visits, to teach parents how to interact and provide stimulation for their stunted children.

Models developed by Heckman to compare popular US-based early childhood development programmes such as Perry Preschool, the Chicago Parent Child programme, Abecedarian, and Head Start found that the ERU stimulation programme outperformed these on several key estimates of actual and potential earnings.


Involved mother, child


In explaining the factors that made the Jamaican intervention more effective than the US ones, Powell said, "The key element of our programme that we think would make it very effective is that we involved both the mother and the child. So this was not about teaching the mother to go off and do something. It was actually working with both mother and child."

Powell contends that this approach resulted in mothers continued use of the stimulation methods long after the home visit of the community health workers had ended. The fact that the intervention was home based and utilised health workers living in the target communities also contributed to its success.

According to Chang-Lopez, another member of the ERU team that designed the intervention, the use of low-cost recyclable toys that the parents could recreate for themselves and the focus on language development were integral parts of the intervention.

"The US programmes may have been group studies rather than one-on-one like ours. So the way we administered it and the type of people we used, I think, made it successful," she said.