Early Childhood Intervention: Assessing the evidence

Early childhood interventions are programs that aim to improve a child’s development trajectory over the longer term. In the context of increasing disadvantage in welfare-dependent communities in Australia, governments spend considerable sums on these programs. The rationale is that investment, in theory, will reduce the cost of government services in the long run — but only if these programs are effective.

This review of Australian programs and policies that aim to positively influence children over the life course finds that though the evidence underpinning a theoretical window of opportunity in which to do this is sound, the reality has not lived up to the promise. Australian programs often do not incorporate international evidence on best practice, are insufficiently informed by research, and remain in place or are expanded even with a lack of compelling evidence to show their impact.

In order to give early childhood intervention programs the best chance of success, federal, state and territory governments should: better evaluate the programs they run, fund high-quality experimental research, and create avenues for policy cooperation between governments and non-government organisations.