With literally hundreds of intervention programs available, how did we make our choice of which programs to profile? With input from the experts, we used the following criteria:
The programs had to be evidence-based and have decades of data supporting them.
The original participants in some of these programs are now in their 30's and 40's and have had happier, healthier and more successful lives than the control group children who did not receive the intervention. This kind of data is very persuasive to viewers.
The programs had to work for children primarily under the age of 6.
We made that decision because the neuro-science and child development researchers profiled in the film all say interventions have their best chance of success, before the age of 6. Of course success continues after that age and we also know there's another great window of opportunity around the onset of adolescence. As we delved deeper, we came to understand a reduction in crime was just one of the many benefits of early intervention. There was much less of a burden on government health, social service, education and justice budgets. The greatest bang for the taxpayer's buck, is under the age of 6.
We had to have at least one program focus specifically on the needs of First Nations children.
To quote Rob Santos of Healthy Child Manitoba, "First Nations citizens are widly overrepresented in all of Canada's misery statistics, especially addiction, poor physical and mental health,unemployment, incarceration and crime." Manitoba faces a unique challenge in its huge First Nations baby boom. It's thought 25 percent of all children in Manitoba are First Nations. Manitoba cannot afford that many kids to go off the rails. That's why we chose to film in the unique Abecedarian program.
We wanted to present a cross-section of cost/benefit programs, so viewers could see investing in these kinds of programs doesn't have to be expensive, but there may be cases, where as taxpayers, we are prepared to pay a significant cost up front for a more expensive program, like the Abecedarian, because the benefits still outweigh the costs. (see the chart below)
Our academic advisor on the film, Dr. Robert McMahon of the Institute for the Reduction of Youth Violence based at Simon Fraser University, pointed us to something called the Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development at the University of Colorado. Researchers there have assessed the effectiveness of dozens of programs. Four of the five programs we filmed were on that site.
Triple P – Positive Parenting Program
Three Vancouver-area families allowed our cameras to follow them through the multi-week Triple P – Positive Parenting Program (see tips from the program here) as they mastered tools to teach their kids self-control.
3-year-old Jilliane pitches uncontrollable temper tantrums. 3-year-old Jackson hits and kicks his mother anytime she asks him to do something. And 5 year-old Luke’s back-talk and acting-out has pushed his mom to her limits.
The Washington State Institute For Public Policy calculated that delivering Triple P to parents could save a community US $1788 per participant, simply by reducing child mental health problems. And in Canada, the Institute of Health Economics calculated that, if a 25% reduction in conduct disorder alone were achieved, Triple P would save up to $10.2 million in justice, mental health, education and social services costs for those children over the first 25 years of their lives. The Triple P program has been shown to result in reductions of conduct disorder from 25.8 percent, to 48 percent.
The PAX Good Behaviour Game
Faced with alarming increases in childhood mental health illnesses and behaviour problems, the Manitoba government rolled out the PAX Good Behaviour Game province-wide. Angry Kids & Stressed Out Parents filmed the game in four Winnipeg-area elementary schools.
Children in classrooms are divided into teams and teams compete to see which can behave best for longest. The team that wins picks a prize from Granny’s Wacky Prize Box - for instance, to be allowed to run in the hall for a minute. The PAX Game teaches children self-control by rewarding them for staying focused for increasingly longer periods of time—blending child-friendly effort and fun. It’s an astoundingly simply concept that yields dramatic results.
Kids who played the PAX Good Behaviour Game were 50 percent less likely to think about suicide; instances of drug abuse and dependence disorders dropped by 50 percent. According to the Paxis Institute, the organization that runs the PAX Good Behaviour Game, Canada has approximately 370,000 young people enter grade one each year. If every one of those children’s grade one classrooms used PAX Good Behaviour Game, we would save an estimated $1.74 billion dollars.
The Abecedarian Program
The Abecedarian program was developed in the 1970s - targeting very poor, primarily black, children in North Carolina. It now operates for the first time in Canada in Lord Selkirk Park - a poor, largely First Nations, neighbourhood in Winnipeg. With extremely high caregiver-to-child ratios that allow intense one-on-one learning, the Abecedarian program imbeds language learning into everything. This is the only early-learning program in the world that accepts babies.
By age 30, the original North Carolina Abecedarian Project children were four times more likely to be university graduates, 50 per cent more likely to be full-time employed, and 84 per cent less likely to receive social assistance. If these findings could be replicated in First Nations populations, the program could provide a vital leg up for Canada’s most disadvantaged citizens. And save taxpayers billions.
Here are links to a few other programs we couldn't fit into the documentary.
Want to dig deeper? The Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, at the Institute of Behavioral Science, University of Colorado Boulder, has a website where you can search for programs by specific criteria.