Lisa Hurt – Cardiff University
Experiences in the first 1000 days of life have a critical influence on child development. Appropriate early child development (including physical, social and emotional, language and cognitive development) has consistently been shown to be associated with good health and educational outcomes in childhood, and better health and employment outcomes in adulthood. Universal health services that support families need evidence to improve their provision.
We reviewed studies that tested interventions aiming to improve child development including social and emotional wellbeing outcomes, by enhancing health service contact with parents up to 24 months postpartum. We used a broad systematic search of the extensive literature in this field, and searched many sources in addition to database searches (such as 58 programme or organisation websites).
We found 22 studies in high-income settings. The quality of the studies was moderate to low, and there was only limited evidence that the interventions had any positive effects. Programmes of greater intensity (in terms of length, number or type of components) did not show more positive effects than programmes of lower intensity.
Understanding how health service contacts can be enhanced to provide support for parents -to achieve the best outcomes for their children – is necessary but challenging. Maternal and child health services consist of many components, many of these untested. Funding is also scarce.
We found insufficient evidence that universal interventions currently available improve child development outcomes, especially when compared to usual care.
There is an urgent need for robust evaluation of existing and novel interventions, to enhance services for all families.
If you’d like to know more, or if you’re interested in doing your own research in this area and think we can help, please contact: HurtL@cardiff.ac.uk