Oct. 1, 2018

Improving school readiness for kids who have faced adverse childhood experiences

Dr. Carla Ginn's research looks at how early intervention can make a difference to children and their families living with low income, mental health challenges, addiction and social isolation

Can two-generation early intervention make a difference to children and their families trying to navigate living with low income, mental health challenges, addiction and social isolation? Assistant Professor Carla Ginn believes it can.

Since 2001, a research-based partnership between Dr. Karen Benzies (Ginn’s doctoral supervisor) at the Faculty of Nursing and Calgary Urban Project Society (CUPS) Health Education Housing has followed low income children and their caregivers.

“In this longitudinal research, there were originally 134 children and their caregivers who attended a two-generation preschool program at CUPS One World Child Development Centre,” says Ginn. “Their caregiver/parent had six-week parenting classes and, after that, caregivers/parents were encouraged to sit in with children for classes.”

The goal, Ginn explains, was to determine if this intervention strengthened the children’s home environment with their caregiver and their readiness for school. The main evaluation tool was the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, which measures receptive vocabulary, a well-accepted global measure for school readiness.

Not surprisingly, scores were below the Canadian average on intake, but there have been multiple successes as students have moved on. Ginn is now visiting the approximately 40 to 60 families that remain in touch at age 15 years and conducting the same vocabulary testing as well as additional assessments such as risk for child maltreatment, depression and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).

While the study is a long way from completion, Ginn believes it is pivotal to a greater understanding of the root causes of resiliency.

“This two-generation approach will really help CUPS develop policies and make recommendations to meet the educational needs of families they serve.”

What's next: Next steps are to work with these families as their children are graduating from high school, helping them access bursaries for post-secondary education.