Incredible Years achieves “proven” rating

Incredible Years is a suite of programmes that target children up to age 12 who are at risk of, or who are exhibiting, conduct problems. The series has been given an overall rating of “proven” in a new programme summary from the Promising Practices Network, the highest rating they apply. The summary notes that studies of Incredible Years have generally focused on short-term effects, but that the handful of longer-term studies reviewed did show some significant extended effects of the programme. You can find out more about Incredible Years at the IEE conference, when Tracey Bywater (IEE), and Kevin Lawrence (Children’s Services Manager, Barnardo’s Cymru) will be running a session on the programme.

Source: Programs that work, Promising Practices Network.

What makes children stressed?

A new research report from the Childhood Wellbeing Research Centre looks at family “stressors” and the impact on children’s outcomes. The authors look at whether particular life events are especially detrimental, whether they have an impact across different outcomes (educational, social, etc), and whether the effects of early childhood events persist into adolescence. They also look at the association between family factors and outcomes.

The findings of the report are broad, especially as different family factors can be associated with different types of outcomes. Key findings include that extremely stressful events, such as homelessness, victimisation, or abuse, can have long-term effects on children’s outcomes. Some stressful events have an impact on children’s emotional and social well-being but not their educational outcomes, and so their negative impacts may be harder to pick up.

The authors point out that in order to target interventions, it is important to understand which family circumstances are significant for child well-being at different ages, and how that varies across outcomes.

Source: Family stressors/ early risk factors that cause detriment to children’s wellbeing and possibilities for early intervention (2012), Childhood Wellbeing Research Centre

Moving to a “better” postcode isn’t the answer

A randomised experiment has explored whether or not where you live has an effect on life chances. Between 1994 and 1998, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Moving to Opportunity (MTO) for Fair Housing programme recruited more than 4,600 families with children living in severely distressed public housing projects in five cities (Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City). Some MTO families were offered the opportunity to use a housing voucher to move into private-market housing in wealthier neighbourhoods, while the others were not.

New research, led by researchers from the US National Bureau of Economic Research, outlines the long-term (10-15 years) impact of the MTO programme on children who were approximately 11 years old or younger at baseline. They discovered few detectable effects on achievement, education, employment, and a range of other health and risky behaviour outcomes. However, there were some encouraging effects on mental health, primarily for girls and young women.

Source: The long-term effects of moving to opportunity on youth outcomes (2013), US Department of Housing and Urban Development, 14(2)

Study suggests Head Start advantages dwindle after preschool

Similar in some ways to the UK’s Sure Start programme, Head Start is a US programme that promotes the school readiness of low-income children from birth to five. Services include preschool education; medical, dental, and mental health care; nutrition services; and efforts to help parents encourage their child’s development. A follow-up study has now shown that there are few lasting impacts of the programme on children in Kindergarten (Year 1) to 3rd Grade (Year 4).

The study included nearly 5,000 newly entering, eligible 3- and 4-year-old children who were randomly assigned to either: a Head Start group that had access to Head Start programme services; or a control group that did not have access to Head Start, but could enroll in other early childhood programmes or non-Head Start services selected by their parents. Data collection began in autumn 2002 and continued through to 2008, following children until they were in Year 4.

Evidence from the study showed initial positive impacts from having access to Head Start, but by the end of Year 4, there were very few impacts found in any of four key programme domains: cognitive development, social-emotional development, health status and services, and parenting practices. The few impacts that were found did not show a clear pattern of favourable or unfavourable impacts for children.

Source: Third grade follow-up to the Head Start impact study: Final report (2012), OPRE

Can cash incentives lead to positive outcomes for teens?

Using a randomised control trial research design, MDRC is conducting an evaluation of the Opportunity NYC–Family Rewards programme. Implemented in New York City in 2007, this programme offered monetary incentives to families living in poverty for education, health, and workforce participation and job-training activities, with the ultimate goal of breaking the cycle of poverty.

In MDRC’s most recent report, researchers examine how parents and their teenage children were affected by Family Rewards two years into the programme. Their analyses focus on the differences between a treatment group and control group in areas such as time use, mental health, and risky behaviours, as measured by surveys.

Findings of their study show that Family Rewards:

  • Changed how teenagers spent their time. For a subgroup of academically proficient teenagers, it increased the proportion of those who engaged primarily in academic activities and reduced the proportion who engaged primarily in social activities;
  • Increased parents’ spending on school-related and leisure expenses and increased the proportion of parents who saved for their children’s future education;
  • Had no effects on parents’ monitoring of their teenage children’s activities or behaviour and did not increase parent-teenager conflict or teenagers’ depression or anxiety;
  • Had no effects on teenagers’ sense of academic competence or their engagement in school, but substantially reduced their self-reported problem behaviour, such as aggression and substance use;
  • Did not reduce teenagers’ intrinsic motivation by paying them rewards for school attendance and academic achievement.

MDRC’s next report on Family Rewards will examine the results after three years of the programme; a final report will include two years of post-programme follow-up.

Source: Using incentives to change how teenagers spend their time (2012), MDRC

What works and what does not for boys and girls

Child Trends has completed two new research briefs that examine programmes and strategies that work, as well as don’t work, for each gender:

Each brief synthesises findings from rigorously evaluated social interventions for young people. The outcome areas explored include academic achievement, delinquency, mental health, reproductive health, and social skills. One key finding for both boys and girls was that including parents in some way in interventions led to desirable impacts for mental health outcomes.

On the other hand, for reproductive health, one-on-one interventions led to positive impacts for females, but experiential learning activities that included group activities were often effective for boys. In addition, while social skills training interventions were not successful for female children and teenagers in reducing externalising behaviours (eg, aggression), in many cases for males, these types of interventions were successful.

Sources: What works for female children and adolescents: Lessons from experimental evaluations of programs and interventions (2012), Child Trends

What works for male children and adolescents: Lessons from experimental evaluations of programs and interventions (2012), Child Trends