I welcome the Minister to the House. I compliment the Minister on the work she has done since taking office. She has shown the way. I compliment the way she has led her Department and it behoves all of the Government to get behind her in this most important portfolio. It is the most important portfolio. Many of the contributors have spoken about what it costs but we should be talking about what it saves and what the Minister can save the country by putting in place programmes she is working on. I hope everyone is reading the reports produced by the Minister, listening and putting their backs behind the Minister to ensure it is not looked at as a cost Department but as a savings Department.
There is increasing evidence on this across the world, which has been there for many years in America and more recently in Ireland. Various reports have been mentioned, including the profile of children at school, those of the Geary Institute, Professors Rutter, Scott and Perry and the Growing Up in Ireland survey. I spent my life working with preschool, whether in lecturing or whatever. Dr. Maria Montessori started off life in the slums of Italy and recognised that by getting children early in the prenatal and perinatal mothering period and also between the years of zero and three, there is a return to the state. The children led the way and showed what they could do. They brought home to their parents what they had learned.
The Minister’s speech referred to the research undertaken and the sensitive period in the process of development, laying a foundation in childhood and beyond for cognitive functioning, behavioural, social and self-regulatory capacities. Many children face various stresses during the years that can impair their healthy development. Early childhood intervention programmes are designed to mitigate the factors that place children at risk of poor outcomes. Such programmes provide support for the parents, children or family as a whole and the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, is doing that. The support may be in the form of learning activities or other structured experiences that affect the child directly or that have indirect effects such as training parents or otherwise enhancing caregiving environments.
As part of a recent study in America, 19 or 20 peer reviewed items of literature showed the effectiveness of early intervention. Investing additional resources in early childhood education and the economic gains that accrue from it can overcome threats to healthy development such as resource disparities in early childhood. It also addresses the consequences of those threats for educational outcomes and beyond. Programmes that provide child development services from the prenatal period to the early intervention in school and preschool, scientific studies and sound evaluation are important. A literature review identified 20 such programmes, and the findings about the outcome of the programmes in respect of 19 were favourable. That is American research, which is more advanced than the Irish research but the Irish are catching up thanks to the Minister’s commissioning of research.
I refer to family support, home visiting and service provision. The Minister referred to bringing services into the classroom and child-centred environments. This has been proven to be beneficial. Programmes supplemented by parental education, delivered in the same settings and through home visits, have been found to be beneficial. Early intervention programmes demonstrate significant and often sizeable benefits in the progression of educational attainment, health, delinquency and crime, social welfare, programme use and labour market success. In some cases, the improved outcomes of these domains were demonstrated soon after the programme had ended. In other cases, favourable impacts were observed through adolescence and into the transition to adulthood. In the case of the Perry preschool programme, lasting benefits in a multiple domains have been measured for 35 years after the intervention ended.
The Minister and other Members referred to the report on the savings made for the State, be it in the one to 16 or one to 26 year category. The evidence indicates there can be longer lasting substantial gains. The report should be circulated widely. Parents of participating children can also gain from early intervention programmes. Senator Jillian van Turnhout referred to the ratio of gross domestic product to youth unemployment. Early intervention programmes would save more if they were introduced. This strategy is in the Minister’s good hands.
Posted under Education
This post was written by on June 25, 2013