Early childhood development in Colombia

During their early years, many children in developing countries do not receive adequate physical, mental or emotional nourishment. As adults, they are likely to be at a disadvantage due to lower levels of education and health, and may fail to provide adequate stimulation and resources for their own children – thus contributing to the intergenerational transmission of poverty and inequality. There is increasing evidence that interventions in early childhood are very important for physiological and psychological development. But if, as is often the case, they are implemented by experts who live outside the communities, they are both expensive and infeasible to expand widely.

This research project aims to develop and evaluate a cost-effective and sustainable intervention to promote early childhood development in Colombia. The intervention will be implemented using local community resources, thus providing a viable model for scaling up if successful. The intervention will consist of weekly hour-long home visits to mothers or primary carers of children aged between one and two years, for a period of one and a half years. The ‘home visitors’ will interact with carers and children, showing them age-appropriate games to play with children and toys to make for them using scrap materials from around the community and home. The visitors will also discuss the importance of psycho-social stimulation for child development with the carer.

This scheme will follow the model designed by Grantham-McGregor, which has been successfully implemented in various countries. The home visitors will be drawn from local female elected representatives (‘madres lideres’), who will receive extensive guidance and preparation for their role. Communities will be chosen randomly to receive the programme in order to provide a natural experiment from which to evaluate the programme.

Furthermore, the researchers will randomly provide nutritional supplements in some of the treated communities in order to test whether the intervention is more likely to be successful if children’s nutrition is also targeted. Surveys will be conducted twice: before the intervention starts; and at the end, 18 months later. The researchers will measure children’s motor, cognitive and socio-emotional development, and their health. The researchers will also obtain detailed information on various socio-economic characteristics of the household, in order to understand the constraints that poor households face when making choices relevant to their children’s development, and ultimately to investigate why the intervention works – or not.