Benefits of early education program for at-risk kids don’t extend to siblings

A child development program shown to improve IQ and behavior among children born with a low birth weight did not help their younger siblings, according to a study led by Harvard School of Public Health’s Marie McCormick, Sumner and Esther Feldberg Professor of Maternal and Child Health. The findings suggest the need to focus more on helping parents make long-term improvements to their parenting practices, and also to target younger siblings individually, McCormick told The Chicago Tribune in a June 4, 2012 article.

In an earlier study, the researchers examined the impact of a program that provided day care and educational home visits to 878 children ages 1 to 3 and their parents. Their findings showed at least temporary improvement in the intelligence and behavior of the children in the program and in their parents’ disciplinary strategies. For the current study, researchers administered intelligence tests and questionnaires to 279 of the children’s younger siblings, who are now ages 13 or 14. They found no difference between the scores of these children and those in a comparison group.

“This just suggests that one of the benefits (of early education programs) is not going to be the spillover effects on siblings,” McCormick told the Tribune. “Particularly for families that are stressed, it may be very difficult without the help of a home visitor to go through this step-wise process every week that they learned,” she said.

The study was published June 2012 in the Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine.

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Department of Society, Human Development, and Health