Early Childhood Intervention: Assessing the Evidence
Analysis of Australian longitudinal data affirms that what happens early in a child’s life can continue to exert an effect throughout childhood. This creates a theoretical window of opportunity to improve a child’s development trajectory over the longer term. Early childhood interventions are programs that aim to do this. They are intended to address the impacts of intractable social problems such as low educational achievement and attainment, crime, welfare dependence, and poverty.
In the context of increasing disadvantage in welfare dependent communities in Australia, governments spend considerable sums on these programs. The rationale is that investment, in theory, will reduce the cost of government services in the long run. But this rationale is borne out only if the programs are proven to be effective. Otherwise, money is simply wasted.
Effective, efficient and intelligent use of early childhood interventions could have substantial impacts. Public policy should be focused on whether those outcomes are being achieved by existing programs, and on trialing and evaluating new models in an effort to find the best way forward.