Pilot evaluation of an early intervention programme for children at risk


Ms Kerry Gwynne, Service Manager, Dalwood Spilstead Centre, Northern Beaches Child & Family Health Services, 21 Dalwood Avenue Seaforth NSW 2092, Australia. Fax: +61299510325; email: kgwynne@nsccahs.health.nsw.gov.au


Aim:  Children from vulnerable families, where there is social disadvantage, parental mental health problems, substance abuse or domestic violence, are at risk of attention, language, learning and behaviour problems because of poor attachment and lack of stimulation in the early years. Three primary modes of early intervention have been shown to produce sustained improvements in children's health, education and well-being despite these risk factors. This pilot aimed to evaluate the Spilstead Model (SM) of early intervention in Australia, which provides a uniquely integrated model of centre-based care, incorporating all three best-practice approaches.

Method:  The study targeted all new clients who attended the SM programme over a 12-month period. A battery of standardised clinician and parent-rated measures assessed parent, child and family functioning via pre-post test research design.

Results:  Results indicated large effect size changes (P < 0.01) in parent/child interaction; reduced parent stress; parental satisfaction; parent confidence; parental capacity; family interactions; child well-being; and total family functioning. A total of 71% of children who presented on initial developmental screening with delays in the clinical range were found to be within the normal range on post-testing; 41% moved from the below average range to scores within the normal range in language development. Parents noted improvements in externalising behaviours of large effect size (1.46).

Conclusions:  (i) Results were highly positive for both children and parents; (ii) the synergistic nature of the SM may have the potential to maximise outcomes for families via a cumulative programme effect; and (iii) implications for further research were established.