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New funding awarded to Pan-Canadian research collaborative to explore the connection between early childhood outcomes and recent investments in poverty-reduction and early learning

Researchers from the Offord Centre for Child Studies at McMaster University, in partnership with researchers from UBC’s Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP), and the University of Manitoba, University of Saskatchewan and Mount Saint Vincent University, have been awarded an Insight Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), to investigate the effects of investment in early child development and learning programs in Canada, both federally and across provinces. 

Why is this research important in our current context?

Children who grow up in poverty are more likely to have poorer developmental and academic outcomes up to adolescence and beyond. In an attempt to promote equity over the last two decades, federal and provincial governments have implemented policies targeting income inequality and early learning programs in families with children, such as the Canada Child Benefit (CCB) and the introduction of full-time and junior kindergarten programs starting at age 4. The CCB is a part of the Canadian federal government’s improved federal poverty reduction strategy, while full-time and junior kindergarten (in some provinces) combines child-care and educational programs for parents and caregivers. 

Research evidence on how poverty-reduction efforts and education policy changes affect child development outcomes is scarce, and in result, research that sheds light on these relationships is hampered by a lack of consistent, comparable data on children’s outcomes over time and across jurisdictions. 

The project, led by Dr. Magdalena Janus, will combine several databases across many years in an effort to study the potential impacts of these policies on children’s development. This approach will blend child development and policy-research lenses together, in an effort to understand how these two sets of policies, each at federal and provincial levels, may have affected disparities in early childhood development, while still controlling for contextual variables. The researchers will make use of the existing population-level, comparable data on child development at school entry and combine this data with detailed sociodemographic information for many provinces before and after those policy changes.  

What is the potential impact of this research?

Early child development and learning is gaining national attention due to the recent historic early learning and childcare agreements that focus on accessible, inclusive, high-quality systems. This study will use a unique database to investigate how large-scale policy interventions and investments influence children’s life-long trajectories, with a particular focus on poverty reduction. In doing so, the project has the potential to evaluate existing programs and inform future policies that impact child development, including the upcoming federal agreements and efforts to create a universal childcare system. 

Faculty, research associates and staff at HELP will be supporting both the research and knowledge exchange components of the project, ensuring key partners in provincial and federal governments, and in the child care and poverty sectors in Canada are actively engaged in the process and learnings over the next three years.