Oct. 25, 2021

Social supports and interventions can decrease developmental disadvantages in children

Researchers in Determinants of Child Development Lab examine critical ingredients needed for children to succeed
Group of preschool students
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This story is the first in a three-part series on how University of Calgary researchers and the United Way of Calgary and Area are making progress in the areas of raising successful kids, overcoming poverty and building strong communities. Together, we can improve local lives. Find out how you can help.

Ongoing research in the Faculty of Arts has found that increased access to community supports early in life can help mitigate childhood developmental disadvantages.

Researchers in the Determinants of Child Development Lab are examining the critical ingredients needed for children to succeed and are identifying how to put them on a trajectory to achieve developmental milestones on or even ahead of time.

“We find that social and relational support are important buffering factors that can help children thrive, and also offset risks that children may experience, such as low family income,” says lab director Dr. Sheri Madigan, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology.

Madigan’s lab researches how the first 2,000 days of life can set the groundwork for later growth and development, and how access to additional positive resources in the community is important.

“When children aren’t receiving the supports they need at home, but they get it elsewhere — such as from their daycare provider, teacher or coach — this relationship can serve to bolster their learning and development,” says Madigan.

When addressing developmental gaps in young children, Madigan says early intervention is important, as these gaps tend to widen rather than shrink over time. 

When children or their families experience hardship, we need to provide them with as many supports as possible to help tip the scale toward more positive outcomes.

Madigan hopes her research will advance understanding of how to shrink disparities in child development and inform intervention strategies for those who need them.

United Way supports child development in Calgary 

The United Way of Calgary and Area supports efforts to address the same developmental gaps as the ones being looked at in Madigan’s lab. Partner agencies such as Between Friends, Families Matter, Wood’s Homes, YMCA, Big Brothers and Big Sisters Calgary, Junior Achievement of Southern Alberta, and Trellis Society (formerly Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary) offer interventions and connections to help kids succeed, including learning programs, tutoring, mentoring and family counselling. 

Poverty, food insecurity, mental illness, domestic violence, and lack of early supports are all risk factors that could prevent children from reaching their developmental milestones. According to the United Way, only one in five kids who need mental health services receives them, and one in five kids in Calgary does not complete high school on time.  

Initiatives like the United Way’s All In for Youth program have helped reduce the number of children in Calgary who do not complete high school on time by 20 per cent.

UCalgary’s 2021 United Way Campaign runs from Oct. 4 until Dec. 10. Your donations help to support programs like those mentioned that ensure children in our community are given the tools needed to succeed. This year’s goal is to raise $625,000 to help improve local lives.  

Donate to UCalgary’s United Way campaign by logging in with your UCalgary email address.

The University of Calgary is driving science and innovation to transform the health and well-being of children and families. Led by the Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute, top scientists across the campus are partnering with Alberta Health Services, the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation, and our community to create a better future for children through research.