On the topic of randomised social policy trials, UCD Dublin’s Professor Colm Harmon draws my attention to a symposium on evidence-based policy in Ireland (proceedings here), and a new randomised trial of early childhood intervention that’s now afoot. Details over the fold.
The PFL programme is an antenatally recruited early childhood intervention which is being evaluated by the UCD Geary Institute using both experimental and quasi-experimental designs. The experimental component involves participants from the PFL communities being randomly allocated to either a high (green) or low (blue) dosage treatment group for five years. The quasi-experimental component uses hierarchical cluster analysis to identify a comparison community, who rank closely to the PFL communites in terms of standard socioeconomic demographics, but do not receive any treatment. All three groups are followed throughout the life of the programme and systematically compared at pre-intervention (baseline) and 6, 12, 18, and 24 months, and 3, 4, and 5 years post-birth.
A cohort of 200 pregnant mothers residing in three North Dublin communities are being recruited through two maternity hospitals and self referral in the community. Details about the programme and an informed consent sheet are provided to mothers at their first hospital booking visit, which is typically between 12-26 weeks of pregnancy. It will take between 18-24 months to recruit the full sample. All 200 participating families will receive facilitated access to pre-school and public health information, the services of a support worker, and age-appropriate educational materials. Half of these families will be randomly allocated to receive enhanced services including a home visiting mentoring programme and the Triple P group parent training programme. Additionally, data are collected from 100 families in a demographically similar matched comparison community in North Dublin to facilitate comparisons with a non-intervention group.
The PFL programme is evaluated using an RCT design, however unlike classical RCTs, the evaluation is a dosage experiment. There has been no study to date analysing the impact of these varying levels of supports, therefore there is no evidence that they will be effective. The UCD Geary Institute research team will use quantitative and qualitative techniques to assess the overall effectiveness of the PFL programme in improving levels of school readiness.