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

vi THE VALUE OF INVESTMENT IN THE EARLY YEARS: BALANCING COSTS OF CHILDHOOD SERVICES These studies reveal that key elements of program effectiveness include: Individualisation of service delivery. There is convincing evidence to suggest that programs that cannot respond to individual childrens and families needs are less successful. This includes not only adjustment to the specific developmental needs of children, but also recognition of features of the socioeconomic setting of parents and children, as well as of the cultural backgrounds of individuals. Provision of generic advice and messages or prepackaged interventions that are not responsive to context are less effective than those that are individualised and sensitive to context and need. Quality of program implementation. One of the most powerful and universally supported findings is that quality of implementation and delivery of high quality services and interventions are decisive for outcomes. This may involve explicit curriculum or clear, wellsupported intervention protocols backed by training, appropriate staff-client ratios, experiential training and practice opportunities for parents. Timing, intensity and duration of intervention. Programs need to be appropriate for childrens developmental level and of sufficient intensity and duration to achieve optimum effect. Loosely delivered programs of variable quality and intensity and insufficient duration are least likely to generate a significant effect at the population level. Provider knowledge, skills and relationship with the family. This entails qualifications, training and professional development of staff, as well as models of practice that promote continuity and quality of engagement with parents and children. A family-centred community-based coordinated orientation. Many of the most successful programs are centre-based or involve a mix of centre and home-based strategies that work best within a framework of community engagement and participation. This requires explicit coordination and arrangements for the integration of services and practitioners. In summary, the evidence reviewed in this paper indicates that to improve the proportion of NT children achieving their developmental potential, a high priority must be given to strengthening the reach and effectiveness of early childhood services. This will require building the capacity of community organisations (as well as of government and non-government agencies) to sustain this expanded investment in childrens futures. These improvements can be enhanced by: Developing models for collaborative and integrated delivery of an expanded range of more effective early childhood services and interventions. Combining universal and targeted early childhood services for implementation at scale. New investment should aim to extend a core set of universal services needed by all children as well as developing targeted services for groups and communities with higher levels of need. Investing in, first, proven and then promising early childhood programs where such programs can be shown to be feasible, culturally accessible and cost-effective for the NT context. Implementing strategic programs in the form of properly controlled implementation trials to ensure that there is both effective implementation and robust evidence of effectiveness. Strengthening the capacity of community organisations, including professional resources, community leadership and local governance to ensure that they can support the delivery of high quality early childhood services at centres and in homes. Exercising political leadership to engage all stakeholders and the wider NT community in an informed discussion about the issues, challenges, and means of achieving better outcomes for children and the potential benefits for individuals and society.

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