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The value of investment in the early years



The value of investment in the early years

Other title

Balancing costs of childhood services


Menzies School of Health Research

Sponsored by

Northern Territory. Department of Education and Training


E-Publications; PublicationNT; E-Books; Early Childhood Series




This publication was produced on behalf of the Department of Education and Training by the Menzies School of Health Research.; Robinson G, Silburn, SR, Arney F, 2011. The value of investment in the early years: Balancing costs of childhood services. Topical paper commissioned for the public consultations on the Northern Territory Early Childhood Plan. Darwin: Northern Territory Government.; Made available via the Publications (Legal Deposit) Act 2004 (NT).




Child development; Early childhood educaton; Northern Territory

Publisher name

Northern Territory Government

Place of publication



Early Childhood Series


No. 4 2011




Attribution International 4.0 (CC BY 4.0)

Copyright owner

Northern Territory Government



Parent handle


Citation address


Page content

16 THE VALUE OF INVESTMENT IN THE EARLY YEARS: BALANCING COSTS OF CHILDHOOD SERVICES 4. Investing in the future of the children in the NT A strategy to improve the developmental outcomes of the NTs children will require a balance of investments in new and improved systems, services and interventions across multiple sectors. The evidence reviewed in this paper suggests that to improve developmental outcomes of NT children, and for the most disadvantaged groups in particular, there needs to be significant upstream investment in more effective preventive services that can be implemented for all sectors of the population. These investments can build on the existing core commitments to extend publicly funded universal services in health, preschool education and childcare, to include new more effective preventive and supportive programs for children, parents and families. They can also be implemented together with, or alongside, existing primary services and be informed by the considerable evidence now available regarding effective early childhood interventions. 4.1 Incremental service improvement The Health Canada Population Health template refers to the need to strike a balance between priorities which vary along an incremental-comprehensive strategy continuum of service development. Incremental strategies tend to focus on a limited number of factors or issues, or a focus on incremental improvement of existing service delivery approaches, with the aim of creating conditions for new additions and options over time. 46 Continuing service improvement, for example, the ongoing implementation of best practice protocols in child health (and the training to support them) or step-by-step establishment of childcare centres in communities are two examples of an incremental approach to service development. The continuous quality improvement systems developed to support evidence-based delivery of primary health care in the NT provide another example of this incremental approach. 47 These systems have proved to be a valuable technical support for monitoring and promoting the implementation of new services, adherence to evidence-based practice, and identifying areas for improvement in service delivery. They also constitute an important means of providing feedback to involved practitioners and service managers. The development of similar systems to support incremental service development and improvement in preventive early childhood health, family support, childcare and early education services warrants more detailed consideration. Similarly, there needs to be continuing development of better data systems to support improved coordination and integration of services and to improve capacity to monitor outcomes. Improvement in all of these domains is a necessary component of any investment in expanded early childhood services. 4.2 Comprehensive area-based strategies Incremental improvement of early childhood services is not enough by itself to influence population outcomes. The circumstances of vulnerable families in the NT clearly calls for a mix of strategies that are each effective in different ways, with different target groups, and addressing specific developmental and family support needs at different points in the child development and family life cycle. A good example of community planning and coordination of services and programs is the pathways to improved school readiness and success at school by year three described by Schorr and Marchands (see Figure 5). 48 The way in which the program logic for this model integrates the overlapping pathways to school readiness and academic success highlights the importance of coordinating policies and local programs to provide the developmentally appropriate support families and children need from before conception, during pregnancy, and through the years of infancy and childhood. These are all vital to enabling families in their care-giving roles, assisting children in meeting their developmental milestones and supporting them with high quality early education and care. The interdependence of each of these areas for action makes it clear that setting children up for success is everyones business. It requires inputs from health, education and community services, as well as from communities and families themselves.