Clear positive effects
The prenatal period and early childhood years set a crucial foundation for an individual’s mental health. Protective and risk factors contribute to making children stronger or more vulnerable in the short, medium or long term, even though they may be subsequently altered by other factors. As a result, these periods are especially favourable for both the promotion of mental health and the prevention of mental disorders.
Parental support and early educational intervention aim to optimize the development of young children. These two types of preventive interventions have often been implemented to support families living in vulnerable conditions due to poverty, undereducation, and isolation, among others. These factors increase children’s susceptibility to mental health problems. Parental support typically consists of home visits or group meetings for parents. Early intervention consists of stimulation programs offered primarily in early childhood education centres.
In Quebec, all the CSSS territories offer the program Services intégrés en périnatalité et pour la petite enfance à l’intention des familles vivant en contexte de vulnérabilité (Integrated perinatal and early childhood services for families living in vulnerable conditions), which provide home visits, with or without early intervention, to all parents under 20 years old as well as parents 20 years or older who are undereducated (did not obtain their high school diploma) and whose income falls below the low income cut off, as defined by Statistics Canada. Other factors may also be considered including single parenthood and recent immigration.
Although specific findings on the effects of this program are not yet available, the evidence reported on the effects of similar programs are clear: they have a positive impact on parenting practices as well as child behaviours and development. In addition, they exert a positive influence on the well-being of parents, especially mothers.
The increase of mental health problems among parents and children raises the following question: what strategies can be put in place to offer support to all families, whether they live in vulnerable conditions or not?