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      Interventions that enhance health services for parents and infants to improve child development and social and emotional well-being in high-income countries: a systematic review


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          Experiences in the first 1000 days of life have a critical influence on child development and health. Health services that provide support for families need evidence about how best to improve their provision.


          We systematically reviewed the evidence for interventions in high-income countries to improve child development by enhancing health service contact with parents from the antenatal period to 24 months postpartum. We searched 15 databases and trial registers for studies published in any language between 01 January 1996 and 01 April 2016. We also searched 58 programme or organisation websites and the electronic table of contents of eight journals.


          Primary outcomes were motor, cognitive and language development, and social-emotional well-being measured to 39 months of age (to allow the interventions time to produce demonstrable effects). Results were reported using narrative synthesis due to the variation in study populations, intervention design and outcome measurement. 22 of the 12 986 studies identified met eligibility criteria. Using Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) working group criteria, the quality of evidence overall was moderate to low. There was limited evidence for intervention effectiveness: positive effects were seen in 1/6 studies for motor development, 4/11 for language development, 4/8 for cognitive development and 3/19 for social-emotional well-being. However, most studies showing positive effects were at high/unclear risk of bias, within-study effects were inconsistent and negative effects were also seen. Intervention content and intensity varied greatly, but this was not associated with effectiveness.


          There is insufficient evidence that interventions currently available to enhance health service contacts up to 24 months postpartum are effective for improving child development. There is an urgent need for robust evaluation of existing interventions and to develop and evaluate novel interventions to enhance the offer to all families.

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          Most cited references57

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          Community wide interventions for increasing physical activity.

          Multi-strategic community wide interventions for physical activity are increasingly popular but their ability to achieve population level improvements is unknown.
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            Assessing social-emotional development in children from a longitudinal perspective.

            This paper provides an overview of methodological challenges related to the epidemiological assessment of social-emotional development in children. Because population-based studies involve large cohorts and are usually multicentre in structure, they have cost, participant burden and other specific issues that affect the feasibility of the types of measures that can be administered. Despite these challenges, accurate in-depth assessment of social-emotional functioning is crucial, based on its importance to child outcomes like mental health, academic performance, delinquency and substance abuse. Five dimensions of social-emotional development in children are defined: (1) social competence; (2) attachment; (3) emotional competence; (4) self-perceived competence; and (5) temperament/personality. Their measurement in a longitudinal study and associated challenges are discussed. Means of making valid, reliable assessments while at the same time minimising the multiple challenges posed in the epidemiological assessment of social-emotional development in children are reviewed.
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              Effects of family foundations on parents and children: 3.5 years after baseline.

              This study investigated the ability of a psychosocial prevention program implemented through childbirth education programs to enhance the coparental and couple relationship, parental mental health, the parent-child relationship, and child outcomes. A sample of 169 heterosexual, adult couples expecting their first child was randomized to intervention and control conditions. The intervention families participated in Family Foundations, a series of eight classes delivered before and after birth, which was designed as a universal prevention program (i.e., applicable to all couples, not just those at high risk). Intent-to-treat analyses utilizing data collected from child age 6 months through 3 years indicated significant program effects on parental stress and self-efficacy, coparenting, harsh parenting, and children's emotional adjustment among all families, and maternal depression among cohabiting couples. Among families of boys, program effects were found for child behavior problems and couple relationship quality. These results indicate that a universal prevention approach at the transition to parenthood focused on enhancing family relationships can have a significant and substantial positive impact on parent and child well-being.

                Author and article information

                BMJ Open
                BMJ Open
                BMJ Open
                BMJ Publishing Group (BMA House, Tavistock Square, London, WC1H 9JR )
                8 February 2018
                : 8
                : 2
                [1 ] departmentDivision of Population Medicine , Cardiff University School of Medicine , Cardiff, UK
                [2 ] departmentSchool for Policy Studies , University of Bristol , Bristol, UK
                [3 ] departmentSpecialist Unit for Review Evidence , Cardiff University , Cardiff, UK
                [4 ] departmentPopulation, Policy and Practice Programme , Institute of Child Health , London, UK
                [5 ] departmentInstitute of Health and Society , Newcastle University , Newcastle, UK
                [6 ] Bristol City Council , Bristol, UK
                [7 ] Public Health Wales , Cardiff, UK
                Author notes
                [Correspondence to ] Dr Lisa Hurt; hurtl@ 123456cardiff.ac.uk
                © Article author(s) (or their employer(s) unless otherwise stated in the text of the article) 2018. All rights reserved. No commercial use is permitted unless otherwise expressly granted.

                This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt and build upon this work, for commercial use, provided the original work is properly cited. See: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

                Funded by: Public Health Wales;
                Evidence Based Practice
                Custom metadata

                child development,social and emotional wellbeing,universal health services,early intervention


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