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Early childhood development and mental health

Date created
Author: Schwartz, C.
Author: Waddell, C.
Author: Barican, J.
Author: Garland, O.
Background: The overarching aim of most early childhood development (ECD) programs is to improve children’s school readiness. Over 50 years of research evidence has found that these programs lead to fewer developmental delays, better language capabilities and better school readiness for disadvantaged children. Researchers have also begun to examine the impact of ECD programs on children’s emotional wellbeing. Methods: We used systematic review methods to identify ECD interventions that assessed children’s social and emotional outcomes. Applying our inclusion criteria, we reported on four ECD programs found in one systematic review. Results: All four programs resulted in some benefits for children, all of whom were living in socio-economically disadvantaged communities. Better Beginnings, Better Futures resulted in children having fewer anxiety symptoms and better self-control when children were eight years old. Chicago Child Parent Centre led to participants having fewer arrests at age 20 and fewer depressive symptoms between the ages of 22 and 24. Children who participated in Perry Preschool engaged in more positive classroom behaviours at age 15 and were less likely to have tried marijuana or heroin at age 40. Finally, an ECD program delivered to children in Mauritius resulted in participants having fewer symptoms of conduct disorder and psychosis. Conclusions: There is a strong body of evidence supporting ECD programs for disadvantaged children to support their overall development and their mental health.
Published as
Schwartz, C., Waddell, C., Barican, J., Garland, O., Gray-Grant, D., & Nightingale, L. (2011). Early child development and mental health. Children’s Mental Health Research Quarterly, 5(4), 1–16. Vancouver, BC: Children’s Health Policy Centre, Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University.
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