Child and Youth Developmental Trajectories Research Unit
Economic circumstances, family environment, neighbourhood conditions, cultural influences and biology all play a part in child and youth development. Because health, education, community and socioeconomic data have traditionally been tracked separately, researchers have not had the capacity to fully investigate the complex factors that affect the development of children and youth in BC. The new data system developed by the unit will change that, giving BC greater capacity than any other jurisdiction in the world to track the factors that support or undermine children’s cognitive, social, emotional and physical development, from the prenatal period through to early adulthood. This dedicated research team will expand the work of the Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP) based at UBC, which is an interdisciplinary network of more than 150 faculty, researchers and students from universities across BC that examines development across the lifespan.
With MSFHR funding, the trajectories data system will bring together health, education, developmental, community resource, and socioeconomic information from a number of sources including:
- A provincial student achievement database.
- School readiness data from all 59 school districts, gathered by HELP, that includes child development data for kindergarten children across BC.
- The BC Linked Health Database, which contains information on a broad range of health and societal factors gathered since the late 1980s, allowing individual trajectories to be traced from conception to the end of high school.
The data system will be used to conduct a series of studies to track developmental trajectories of children and youth over time, and determine what causes differences in their development. Researchers will use the data to explore a number of theme areas:
- How socioeconomic factors affect development, including detailed inquiry into why there are differences in child development between neighbourhoods with similar socioeconomic profiles.
- The reliability of early developmental assessment tools to predict children’s development from kindergarten through high school.
- To what degree educational attainment scores in elementary school reflect social and family support, physical and mental health, and health care experiences in the early years of life.
- How children’s physical and mental health problems contribute to differences in development, and how socioeconomic and other factors contribute to differences in physical and mental health.
- The impact of intervention programs in BC communities to influence levels of achievement in the early and middle school years.
- The capacity of early life experiences to alter brain and biological development, and how this differs across neighbourhoods with different dietary patterns, social cohesion and socioeconomic characteristics.
- The factors and interventions during periods of developmental transition (e.g. the onset of language) that can positively shape further development.
- The special needs of children who are at risk for altered cognitive, physical and/or social-emotional/mental development.
- The risk and protective factors that may shape the developmental trajectories of vulnerable groups such as Aboriginal and economically-disadvantaged populations.
This research will identify factors that contribute to risk and resilience in children and youth. The information will be used to guide policy and program development, and address gaps in developmental and educational outcomes, with the goal of ensuring that all children have the means to thrive.
Award term completed September 2009.