The early family environment can have a profound impact on children’s long-term health and educational success. Research shows that family risks (e.g. poverty, health life style, psychopathology, low education) are the most important determinants of children’s health and social outcomes. The risks begin with parental characteristics before conception, continue during pregnancy, and accumulate during the early years of life. Early intervention programs can break the intergenerational transmission of risks and thereby reduce the heavy social and financial costs associated with health and educational problems. Such interventions include social and medical support to vulnerable mothers during and after pregnancy, as well as high quality child-care services. A common assumption of prevention science is that the earlier the intervention, the greater the potential for positive impacts and the benefits of the investment. But evidence to support this claim, comparing the effects of services initiated at different points during children’s development, is almost non-existent. The objectives of this research program are to examine a) to what extent early childhood services (ECS) offered to high-risk families can reduce the risk for health and educational problems, and b) to what extent the magnitude of the impact depends on the timing of the intervention (e.g. prenatal vs. post-natal). The program contains 2 research axes and relies on two distinct methodological approaches. In the first, we examine the protective role of ECS initiated at different ages using large-scale longitudinal data sets from Europe (Ireland, UK, France) and North America (Canada, USA). In the second, we assess the impact of an Irish randomized control trial targeting high-risk families. This IFF will allow the applicant’s venue in Ireland in order to complement the expertise of the host institution and develop new collaborations between the host and other EU countries.
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