Territory Stories

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

THE VALUE OF INVESTMENT IN THE EARLY YEARS: BALANCING COSTS OF CHILDHOOD SERVICES v Executive summary A large proportion of the NTs children do not realise their developmental potential. This has significant implications for society and government as the consequences of poor early childhood development extend through the lifecycle. Children with compromised early development are at substantially increased risk for adverse educational outcomes, poor functional literacy, delinquency and crime, unemployment, substance misuse, poor adult physical and mental health, and premature death. There is much to be gained through better investment in the early years to reduce the population levels of poor health and social and emotional problems later in life. This will not only reduce the impact of these problems for individuals and society, but also add to the productive capabilities, skills and competencies of the next generation of Territorians. The costs to individuals of poor early development include reduced educational attainment, detrimental effects of welfare dependency, reduced quality of life and limited opportunities for effective participation in their own communities and wider society. Families and society also incur high costs in dealing with the burden of social and emotional problems and ill-health, as well as the costs associated with much higher rates of welfare dependency, involvement with the justice system and incarceration. At the same time, research regarding the efficacy and effectiveness of evidence-based early childhood interventions show that high quality programs can yield significant short and long-term benefits that far exceed their costs. These programs include approaches to enriched early learning in childcare centres and preschool settings (High/Scope Perry Preschool, Abecedarian etc.); parenting interventions from early infancy onwards delivered at home or in health or community centres (Nurse-Family Partnerships etc.); and a range of behavioural programs for parents and/or children that target child behaviour, mental health and social emotional learning (The Incredible Years program, Triple P Positive Parenting Program etc.). Research also suggests that careful targeting of early childhood development programs can optimise returns on investment and guard against the dilution of resources and effort. Low cost, poor quality versions of programs with weak implementation controls are unlikely to yield any return at all. Extrapolating from the evidence from high quality studies, it is argued that investment in equivalent early childhood programs made universally available for disadvantaged children can yield a significantly positive return on investment within two decades. Public investment in large-scale (population-wide) programs such as Head Start and Early Head Start in the USA and Sure Start in the UK has yielded somewhat variable benefits. There are also concerns about the extent of the overall return on the very substantial investment in these approaches. A major factor underlying the concerns about Sure Start was the fact that policy decisions about how the program was to be implemented in communities did not require the implementation of proven (i.e. evidence-based) programs and precluded their evaluation methodologies using controlled trials. These policy constraints have resulted in the reportable outcomes being more variable and less demonstrable than would otherwise have been the case. The implementation and evaluation of recent nationally funded, area-based initiatives in Australia have also been limited by such policy constraints. This seriously limited the potential benefit of this substantial investment and the learnings which could have emerged from more systematic program delivery and evaluation. High quality programs that have been rigorously evaluated for their preventive effects and their long-term benefits to individuals and society provide the strongest evidence regarding the characteristics of effective early childhood interventions.

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