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30 Years Later, Does an Early Childhood Program Still Have Impact?

April 18, 2017

Early childhood stimulation has been shown to be beneficial on children’s development, especially for stunted and otherwise severely disadvantaged children. Programs like this not only help children overcomes some of the problems related to poverty, but they also can contribute to a country’s economic growth by giving children the developmental skills they need to grow into healthy, educated and productive adults. One challenge is to convince cash-strapped governments that it makes sense to invest in early childhood programs. The ongoing study in Jamaica of children whose mothers received weekly home visits for almost two years, has helped development experts better understand and explain the gains from these programs. This 30-year follow-up will continue with the evidence gathering, looking at some new areas where early childhood programs may be still having an impact.

Research area: Early Childhood Nutrition, Development, and Health

Country: Jamaica

Evaluation Sample: About 170 children

Timeline: 2016 - 2018

Intervention: Stimulation, home visits


Christel M. J. Vermeersch, World Bank; James Heckman Henry Schultz Distinguished; Service Professor, University of Chicago; Rodrigo Pinto, University of California, Los Angeles; Sally Grantham-McGregor (pediatrician and researcher on original Jamaica study); Susan Chang, University of West Indies; Susan Walker, University of West Indies

Partners: University of Chicago; University of the West Indies

This evaluation is a follow-up to a study that was originally implemented by a team at the University of the West Indies. While the Government of Jamaica is not directly involved in the study, the original study and its follow-ups is widely known in Jamaica and helped inform the country’s early childhood national strategic plan, which includes parenting education for young children, and screening of at-risk children.

The children in the Jamaica study are now adults aged around 30. The new round builds on previously collected rounds that showed the following results: After the two years of the trial, both interventions showed independent benefits to the children’s development. Supplementation also benefited linear growth. At 7 years, small benefits were found to cognition from each intervention but not to growth. Follow up during adolescence showed stimulation had sustained benefits to cognition, and benefits to educational achievement and psychological functioning emerged. Supplementation no longer had any benefits. At the most recent follow-up at age 22 years benefits to IQ and educational achievement continued, there were benefits to mental health and reduced involvement in violent behavior and 25% increase in average monthly income.