The research is reported in a book just published from the Millennium Cohort Study of nearly 15,000 children in the United Kingdom. It found that the delayed development of gross motor skills (such as crawling) and fine motor skills, (for example, holding objects with fingers) affected about one in ten children. This was associated with delayed cognitive development and behavioural adjustment at age five.
These findings have arisen from a study of factors that could reduce the impact of financial hardship on young children's development. By the age of five there was a difference in ability between children growing up in persistent poverty and those in families that had never received means-tested benefits. This amounted to 11 points on the cognitive ability scale which is about the difference between the middle of the ability range and the top of the bottom quarter.
Psychological characteristics of the mother and the quality of her relationship with the child were then examined to see if they might help to explain why financial hardship affected the youngster's cognitive development. As might be expected, it was found that a good mother-child relationship significantly benefits the cognitive and behavioural development of children in poor families.
The researchers, Ingrid Schoon, Helen Cheng and Elizabeth Jones, analysed child development information gathered by the first three surveys of the Millennium Cohort Study, which is run by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at the Institute of Education at the University of London.
Other research has had similar findings, but this study provides the first UK evidence of these effects at such an early stage of development. The researchers said, "Our findings also suggest that policy interventions aiming to promote positive development of children should provide support for parents too," and add. "If parents' mental health and self-esteem are undermined by hardship this could affect their parenting and interactions with the child."
Professor Schoon suggests that screening tests needed to be followed by more thorough evaluations if it appeared that a child might have a developmental delay. "Developmental evaluations are in-depth assessments of a child's skills and should be administered by a trained professional," she said. "They are used to create a profile of a child's strengths and weaknesses in all developmental areas. The results of such evaluations help to determine if the child is in need of early intervention services."
Professor Peter Tymms, director of Durham University's Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring, said, "The study's findings fitted a pattern of children's school achievements being predicted by their performance in tests of understanding from an early age, but it was unusual to have found statistics predicting future cognitive difficulties before the age of one. He added: "There should be more evidence before we go for a nationwide intervention such as screening tests. There are pluses and minuses of interventions: we might be able to help some children, but screening could also cause anxiety to children and their parents identified as needing help." The Guardian Wednesday 17 February 2010
Hansen,K., Joshi, J. & Dex, S. (2010) Children of the 21st century (volume 2): the first five years.
Bristol: The Policy Press
Early Intervention, Screening, Parental Involvement, Poverty
Article Id : 16290
Date Posted: 22/2/2010