Maternal depression and the development of conduct disorder in children

There is a strong association between maternal depression and the development of conduct disorder in children. This study, published in Psychology, examined the impact of maternal depression on treatment to prevent child conduct disorder. There are a number of skill deficits commonly associated with depression that have also been shown to describe parents of conduct problem children. These include poor problem solving and an inability to recall specific events.

The researchers analysed the problem using data from a randomised controlled trial of a parenting programme for parents of high-risk three- and four-year-old children. They found that improvement in maternal depression was a significant partial mediator of improvement in child behaviour. This implies that parenting interventions for the prevention of conduct disorder are more likely to improve child behaviour if they also address the skill deficits associated with maternal depression.

Source: Improvements in maternal depression as a mediator of child behavioral change (2012), Psychology, 3(9)

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

Randomised controlled trial of the Fostering Changes programme

This randomised controlled trial was conducted in order to investigate the effectiveness of the Fostering Changes programme, which provides practical support and training for foster carers in the UK. The evaluation was carried out on 63 carers across four Greater London local authorities; 34 were randomly allocated to the Fostering Changes training group and 29 to the control group.

Results of the trial showed that there was a significant improvement in the behaviour of children of carers in the Fostering Changes group, compared to children of carers in the control group. There was a large effect on carer-defined problems and a small-to-moderate effect on emotional and behavioural difficulties. The quality of attachment between looked-after child and carer was significantly improved and there were significant positive changes in carer confidence and parenting practices that were related to the skills obtained as a result of the Fostering Changes training course.

Source: Randomised Controlled Trial of the fostering changes programme (2012), Department for Education

New study finds technology improves grammar learning

Hand-held technology can help to improve primary pupils’ learning of grammar, according to a new study by researchers at the Institute for Effective Education (IEE). A randomised evaluation of the use of Questions for Learning (QfL), a technology-enhanced, self-paced learning tool, was conducted in more than 40 primary schools. In QfL, each pupil responds to progressively more difficult questions that are presented on wireless hand-held devices at the rate that the pupil answers them. This allows both more advanced and weaker pupils to answer in a private way at a pace appropriate to them.

Pupils in classes who used QfL showed significant gains in grammar compared with pupils in the control group. This improvement was greater in schools that used QfL at least three days each week, and for low- and average-achieving pupils. If these results held over a school year, these pupils would make between three and four months of additional progress. Both teachers and pupils enjoyed using the strategy for formative assessment, believed it improved pupil achievement in grammar, and would recommend its use for other pupils and for other subjects.

Source: Effects of technology-enhanced formative assessment on achievement in primary grammar (2012), Institute for Effective Education

The effects of a volunteer mentoring programme on reading outcomes

This article from the Journal of Early Childhood Research presents findings of a randomised controlled trial evaluation of the effects of a volunteer mentoring programme on reading outcomes among struggling readers aged eight to nine years. The trial involved children from 50 primary schools who received two 30-minute mentoring sessions per week from volunteer mentors that involved paired reading activities.

The evaluation showed that the programme was effective in improving decoding skills, reading rate, and reading fluency. However, no evidence was found of the programme having an effect on reading comprehension or reading confidence and enjoyment of reading. The findings make an important contribution to the existing evidence in this area, and show that mentoring programmes that use non-specialist volunteers, rather than teachers or highly trained mentors, can be effective in improving some core reading but may be less effective in improving reading comprehension.

Source: The effects of a volunteer mentoring programme on reading outcomes among eight- to nine-year-old children: A follow up randomised controlled trial (2012), Journal of Early Childhood Research, 10(2)

Improving college readiness and enrollment for disadvantaged populations

This paper from the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness synthesises the evidence on the effectiveness of programmes designed to improve college readiness and enrollment for disadvantaged populations in the US. The purpose of the paper is to provide guidance for policymakers and practitioners implementing college access programmes, and to identify important gaps in the scientific evidence base that warrant further research.

The authors note that their findings are still preliminary. However, they do identify two early conclusions:

  • Measures of completed coursework are the best pre-college predictors of college graduation. The authors encourage evaluators to consider including these outcome measures in their evaluations of college access programmes.
  • The sharp differences in the size of estimated impacts between quasi-experimental designs (QEDs) and randomised controlled trials raise questions about the extent to which QEDs are identifying causal impacts.

Source:Effects of college access programs on college readiness and enrollment: A meta-analysis, Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness