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The impact of early childhood education and care and parenting programs


Over the past decades, interest in the benefits of early childhood and modified parental leave has grown. The European Commission has passed legislation to favour both access to early childhood education and care (through the Barcelona objectives) and to amend workers’ rights when it comes to parental leave. At the same time, the EU and other policy organisations have developed a keen interest in finding out ‘what works’ in various policy areas: this trend led to the creation of EPIC in 2012. Below, some of EPIC’s work on childcare and ECEC and practices that work is reviewed; recent evidence from beyond the EU is also discussed.

‘What works’ in childcare and early childhood

To help inform the debates on what works in the field of childhood and parenting support, the European Platform for Investing in Children (EPIC) authored a series of policy briefs on these topics. Its work on parenting support found that while the services that form parenting support in Europe are seen as a lever to improve educational outcomes and reduce negative outcomes at a later age, the delivery of these services varies greatly in Europe and there is no single common model for delivery. Its work on parenting and childcare observed that parents in Europe tend to combine various instruments for work-life balance to care for their children, and that variation exists depending on the child’s age or labour market opportunities for parents. The EPIC platform also produced work on early childhood education and care: it found that as expected, early years provide both challenges and opportunities to improve child development and welfare, but that ECEC provision in the EU is unequal. It also found that to be most effective, ECEC provision needs to be of good quality.

In addition to providing some evidence in the form of briefs, EPIC’s main purpose lies in fostering the dissemination of ‘good practice’ in childcare and wellbeing through its ‘practices that work’ section. For instance, the EPIC team recently reviewed ‘Incredible Years’, which aims to provide training to parents to better equip them to identify and deal with their children’s emotional and behavioural issues through positive parenting. The practice has existed for more than 10 years and is implemented in about 6 European countries. Another relevant practice located in EPIC’s database is Home Start, which has existed since 1973 and is implemented more than 6 EU countries. It consists in a home visiting intervention whereby volunteers who have experience in childcare provide support to struggling families with children aged 0-5.

Learning from abroad – preschool education

Recent evidence from the United States found that specific parenting programs (such as Incredible Years, and other effective programs) can help to improve parenting, and also have a positive impact on child outcomes, notably when it comes to bridging the socioeconomic gap between rich and poor students. In addition, recent studies have found that preschool participation in the United States can also help close those gaps. A recent studypdf revealed that public preschool programs could have significant impact on early learning for children (including middle class, disadvantaged, special needs and bilingual children), notably when they were good quality (i.e. stimulating interactions between teachers and children and using curricula effectively).

At a time when debate around the evidence base for child and parenting policies is intensifying, it is worth noting the convergence of evidence from around the world, and the unique opportunity presented by evidence-based platforms in sharing evidence.