Research Shows Early Intervention Improves Outcomes for Children on Dublin’s Northside

Research Shows Early Intervention Improves Outcomes for Children on Dublin’s Northside

  • Nov, 2019
  • |

Early intervention reduces socioeconomic inequalities by almost 50%.

Four years after finishing Northside Partnership’s Preparing for Life early intervention programme, research launched on Wednesday, 27th November 2019, shows that participant children’s IQs are 8 points higher than children who were not on the programme.

Summary Report Available here

Technical Report Available here

Research conducted by UCD’s Geary Institute of Public Policy on Preparing for Life found that the children whose parents received the Preparing for Life parenting supports have IQ points which are 8 points higher than the control group who did not receive the parenting supports, four years after the families finished the programme. The size of this difference is equivalent to reducing socioeconomic inequalities by about a half.

"The results show that Preparing for Life is continuing to have a meaningful and long-lasting impact on the children’s lives,” said Dr. Orla Doyle, UCD Geary Institute for Public Policy, who conducted the research. “The children who received the programme in their first 5 years are better at making decisions, solving problems, and thinking logically at age 9. They also have better language skills. The programme gave them the basic cognitive tools and now the children are using these tools to master the more complicated tasks which school demands. If these impacts are sustained, they are likely to have important consequences for their success in school and beyond, particularly for their educational and employment opportunities." 

Preparing for Life was developed as evidence showed that over half of the children living in the area were starting school without the necessary skills to make a successful transition to school life. The Preparing for Life programme aims to promote children’s development and improve these low levels of school readiness by supporting parents to develop the skills and knowledge to help prepare their children for school.

Working with families, health services, pre-schools and schools from pregnancy through childhood to get children ready to start school, the programme offers:

Fortnightly home visits by trained mentors to equip parents with the knowledge and skills to help their children develop (Home Visiting)

Positive parenting courses for parents of children aged two and over (Triple P, Circle of Security)

Ante natal care and baby massage classes.

The Preparing for Life study included 233 parents who were randomly allocated into a high treatment group and a low treatment group. All families received some supports, but the families in the high treatment group received intensive parenting supports from pregnancy until their children started primary school.

In 2016, the study found that Preparing for Life had dramatic impacts on children’s IQ, obesity levels and social behaviour at the end of the programme.

 “The Preparing for Life programme effects may be attributed to both its length and intensity,” according to Dr. Doyle. “By delivering a five-year intervention, i.e. the first 2,000 days, the programme provided early and sustained investment in families during a critical stage of development.

The latest report revisits the programme participants when they are 9 years old, four years after the intervention has ended, to see if there is an enduring effect.

At age 9, children who received the Preparing for Life programme are better able to focus their attention; they also have a better working memory and better concentration. These skills help children perform well in school.

The children also have better reading and maths scores at age 9. In 2nd Class, they scored 5% higher than those in the control group on standardised reading tests. In 3rd class, they were 9% higher. In maths, the 2nd class high treatment group scored 9% higher than the control group, while in the 3rd class, the difference was 7%.

Avg Score
High Treatment

Avg Score
Low Treatment

Reading 2nd Class 99.55
94.93 5%
Reading3rd Class 97.51
89.67 9%
Maths 2nd Class 97.42
89.73 9%
Maths3rd Class 94.42
88.05 7%

They are also more likely to have scores above the national average. For example, 22% of children in the high treatment group score above average on their maths test, compared to only 5% in the control group.  

“I loved my Preparing for Life experience,” said Evelyn Murphy, mother of four who participated in the programme when she had her second child. “I have received lots of tips to help me be the best parent I can be. I took part in baby massage which made me just stop and be with my baby, and just enjoy him, parenting programmes to help with the more difficult behaviours which I still use. I was able to lean on my mentor for support when going through tough times. My mentor would never tell me what to do, but she would listen and help me work through options, she was there for all our family not just Billy. I always knew I could turn to my mentor when the going got tough. I think everyone should get a chance of a mentor in Preparing for Life.”

Unfortunately, the programme no longer has an impact on the children’s well-being or their health. At age 9, 1/3 of the children were overweight or obese, compared to the national average of 1/5. When they were 5 years old, the children in the high treatment group were less likely to have behavioural problems such as aggression or anxiety and had better social skills. However, these effects have faded out by age 9. The age 5 results also found that the programme reduced children’s use of hospital services by 37%.

“Early intervention and prevention works!” according to Niall Sexton, Preparing for Life Manger, at the launch of the research. “They have worked particularly well in our programme due to the quality of the relationships built between the Preparing for Life team and the families. Our aim is to support parents to nurture their children in order to build thriving communities.”

“This is a worthwhile investment for government,” he continued. “Early intervention and continued supports can help to prevent issues later in life relating to health, wellbeing, educational outcomes, employment possibilities and crime. The government needs to continue the investment, to continue to support parents so that gains we made up to age 5 are not lost.”

Preparing for Life was originally funded by Atlantic Philanthropies and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and is now supported by Tusla, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, the HSE and The Community Foundation for Ireland.

About Dr. Orla Doyle

Dr. Orla Doyle is an Associate Professor in the UCD School of Economics and a Research Fellow at the UCD Geary Institute for Public Policy at University College Dublin. The core focus of her research is a micro analysis of human behaviour. Over the last twelve years she has developed, led, and consolidated a large research programme dedicated to evaluating the effectiveness of early childhood intervention programmes using experimental and quasi-experimental designs. She is currently the Director of the UCD Childhood and Human Development Research Centre and MSc Programme Coordinator within the UCD School of Economics. She has generated over €2M in research funding to date and has published over 40 academic articles across multiple disciplines (economics, psychology, public health, medicine, education). Dr. Doyle received her Ph.D. in economics from Trinity College Dublin and holds a B.A. in economics and social science (TCD). 

Research Methodology

At the Age 9 Follow Up, the PFL children ranged in age between 7 and 11 years, with an average age of 9 years old. Families were invited to take part through community event recruitment and targeted recruitment. 3 types of data were collected:

  1. Child – direct assessment:
    1. Cognitive Development based on British Ability Scale III; NIH Toolkit Executive Functioning
    2. Socio-emotional Development – Social Skills Improvement System
    3. Child Health – Height, Weight, BMI; Heart Rate; Blood Pressure
  2. Parent – online/phone/in person
    1. Parenting based on Family Involvement Questionnaire; Attentional Control Scale; Internet usage/supervision
    2. Socio-emotional Development based on Brief Problems Monitor; Strengths & Difficulties Questionnaire
    3. Child Health – health status; health service use; dietary intake
  3. School – administrative records
    1. Academic Standardised Tests 2nd & 3rd class maths & reading scores
    2. Absenteeism & School Resources – days absent from school; special education needs & supports
  • Ends -