Targeting early childhood care and education: Myths and realities

Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version
Gillian Doherty
14 Aug 2001
Occasional paper 15


This paper reviews two bodies of research. The first pertains to identification of threats to children's optimal development and the second examines the effectiveness of different types of targeted programs intended to enhance the development of at-risk children. Many variables that put children at risk for developmental problems occur in both lone- and two-parent families and across all income levels. The current practice of restricting programs for at-risk children to specific neighbourhoods inevitably means the exclusion of many at-risk children. The second body of research demonstrates that at-risk children's development is enhanced through high- quality, centre-based group programs but not through programs that focus solely or primarily on trying to change parental behaviour and/or providing family support. Evidence from a third body of research demonstrates that non-targeted, ordinary high-quality community child care centres are effective in promoting the development of both at-risk children and children not deemed to be at risk. The paper concludes that targeted early childhood education programs are not in society's best interest. A high-quality, publicly-funded universal child care program is not only desirable, it is affordable and sustainable.


Executive summary

1 Supporting the development of Canada's children
1.1 Introduction
1.2 The Early Childhood Development Initiative: An opportunity for action
1.3 Meeting the challenge
1.4 The purposes of this paper
1.5 The organization and content of this paper
1.6 Issues when using research evidence to inform policy

2 Identification of vulnerable children
2.1 Introduction
2.2 Specific types of parenting styles
2.3 Living with a parent who is stressed
2.4 Living with a parent who is depressed
2.5 Living in a dysfunctional family
2.6 Lack of linguistic and/or cognitive stimulation
2.7 Comparisons of children from families at various income levels
2.8 Comparison of children from single- and two-parent families
2.9 Community mapping as a mechanism to identify children who are at risk for developmental problems
2.10 Summary and conclusions

3 Targeted child-focused programs
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Single-site research projects
3.3 Large scale multi-site programs
3.4 Summary and conclusions

4 Targeted parent-focused programs
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Single-site research projects
4.3 Large scale multi-site programs
4.4 Discussion
4.5 Conclusions

5 Two-generation programs
5.1 Introduction
5.2 Four representative two-generation programs
5.3 Discussion
5.4 Conclusion

6 Universal programs
6.1 Introduction
6.2 At-risk children in ordinary community group programs
6.3 Universal parenting education programs and at-risk children
6.4 Conclusions

7 Policy implications
7.1 Introduction
7.2 Children's environments
7.3 The impact of targeting
7.4 Cost/benefit analysis
7.5 Summary


NOTE:  Each chapter is available in pdf from the linked list below.

Download this publication

Occasional paper series