Overview of HELP's Research

HELP’s research fosters ‘cell-to-society’ interdisciplinary exchange. This exchange involves colleagues from the natural sciences, health sciences, and social sciences, collaborating on an early years agenda.

In the first few years of life, our genes are particularly sensitive to environments in which we spend time. The interaction of nature and nurture influence the developing brain and other key biological systems. In the early years, the regions of the brain that are so are highly sensitive to the environment include all the basic competencies that we need for coping throughout life, such as vision, hearing, emotional control, social capability and cognitive competencies to interpret symbols and language.

HELP’s research reaches from ‘cell to society’, including how early experience affects the development of the brain, to monitoring children’s development over time, and further to family policy that supports optimal child development. HELP builds on a range of population health approaches, including social determinants of health. HELP takes a life course approach, accepting the early years as the first and most critical in determining life-long health and wellbeing.

Biology of Early Development

A child’s early experiences and the environments in which they spend their time have an important and measurable effect on their later life path of health and well-being.   These experiences and environments literally sculpt the brain through a process of biological embedding called epigenetics.  HELP’s research seeks to understand how both positive and adverse experiences and environments get inside us to affect educational outcomes and population health patterns across the province of BC, Canada and internationally.

Early Childhood Development Program

The purpose of HELP’s Early Childhood Development Program of Research is to develop an understanding of how families, neighbourhoods, schools, and early childhood development programs and services interact with biological factors and policy environments to produce a range of developmental health outcomes for children. Key aspects of this Research Program are population level data collection, analysis, and knowledge translation. 

Data on children’s early years are collected by way of a questionnaire known as the Early Development Instrument (EDI).  Socio-economic and census data from Statistics Canada are also used along with other data related to early childhood development and health.  These data help to provide a better understanding of the social determinants of early childhood development.  The findings of this research inform programs, services and practices related to optimizing child outcomes.

Middle Childhood Development Program

During the middle years (ages 6 to 12), experiences can have critical and long lasting effects.  Health and well-being during the middle years are powerful predictors of adolescent adjustment and success. 

The Middle Years Development Instrument (MDI) is a self-report questionnaire completed by children in Grade 4 and Grade 7.  The MDI gives children a voice, an opportunity to communicate to adults in schools and communities about what their experiences are inside and outside of school.  It also provides researchers and decision-makers with important information and insight into children’s lives experiences.

The MDI has great potential to provide educators, parents, researchers, and policy makers with action-oriented information about the psychological and social worlds of children during middle childhood.  Such information can guide policy makers, schools, program planners, and community members in creating environments that help children in their community thrive.