Prevention and Early Intervention Programme in Ireland and Northern Ireland

Resource type: Evaluation

Mathematica Policy Research |

Children and youth organisations on the island of Ireland are building a strong body of prevention and early intervention practices, according to an evaluation of Atlantic’s investments by Mathematica Policy Research. Meanwhile, research organisations are acquiring new expertise in evaluating children’s prevention and early intervention programmes.

Conducted in 2011 and published in 2012, this evaluation is a follow-up to a study that Mathematica conducted in 2008 of The Atlantic Philanthropies’ Children & Youth Programme in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

“The Atlantic Philanthropies’ Children & Youth Programme on the island of Ireland demonstrated the real difference that a comprehensive approach to prevention and early intervention services can make in the lives of children. Atlantic’s programme provides an opportunity for government to build upon this important philanthropic investment and secure better outcomes for future generations of children.”
– Diane Paulsell, associate director at Mathematica and lead author of the study.

The Situation

At the start of Atlantic’s investments in 2004, governments on the island of Ireland recognised the need for prevention and early intervention programmes for children but services still largely responded to crises. Similarly, the government and children and youth sector did not typically conduct rigorous evaluations of their programmes or use research evidence to make policy decisions.

The Work

Our investments in children and youth in promoting prevention and early intervention services focused on the following areas:

  • Demonstrating effective practice that leads to policy reform
  • Informing and influencing policy and practice
  • Developing capacity and infrastructure for the sector

At Storysacks® classes, parents learn how to make reading fun and instil a love of books in their children. Storysacks is a language and literacy development programme facilitated by youngballymun, an organisation that is working to improve learning and physical and mental well-being for children in Ballymun, a socially disadvantaged area of Dublin where many families live on low incomes.

The Findings

An October 2012 evaluation by Mathematica Policy Research noted that Atlantic’s grantees are making progress in the following areas:

  • Building a strong body of effective evidence-based practice of prevention and early intervention services.  Evidence-based practice means designing services based on community needs, selecting models with evidence of effectiveness and testing their value in specific communities. For example, Early Years, a nonprofit organisation that promotes high-quality care and education, created a programme to help young Catholic and Protestant children in Northern Ireland gain more favourable attitudes towards others who are different. The programme also addresses other issues around difference such as race and disability. With support from Atlantic, the programme was rolled out and evaluated. The evaluation found strongly positive effects for children, parents and teachers.Community organisations working in a disadvantaged area outside of Dublin, meanwhile, created Doodle Den, an after-school programme that promotes literacy among children from disadvantaged areas. An evaluation recommended that the programme become available to other communities wishing to promote early childhood literacy.
  • Informing and influencing policy and practice. Grantees disseminated evaluation evidence and formed networks to share and learn from one another.For instance, Atlantic-funded networks of organisations in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland work to improve outcomes for children, young people and their communities. Atlantic grantees in the network meet regularly with key government officials who can make policy changes, sharing the results of evaluations of effective prevention and early intervention programmes. The Prevention & Early Intervention Network, based in the Republic of Ireland, publishes information on research, advocacy and services by its member organisations.Similarly, the Centre for Effective Services is synthesising findings from across a number of programmes. The syntheses are aimed at helping policymakers and organisations easily learn about the findings from several similar programmes or approaches.
  • Developing research capacity in the children and youth sector. The needs of Atlantic’s grantees for rigorous evaluations stimulated several institutions to hire or train staff to undertake this work.For example, Atlantic grantees hired the Centre for Effective Education at Queen’s University, Belfast to carry out several rigorous evaluations on prevention and early intervention services. Among them was an evaluation of Time to Read—a programme designed to promote literacy among children. Atlantic also funded a network of research institutes known as the Improving Children’s Lives Initiative at Queen’s University, Belfast.The National University of Ireland, Maynooth, meanwhile, evaluated several programmes, including Incredible Years, which is designed to decrease conduct issues and promote positive behaviour among children.
  • Creating new service designs and expertise in implementing programmes. Child and youth organisations created programmes tailored to the needs and context in which they were working. Parenting NI, for example, developed Odyssey, an eight-week programme for parents struggling with the challenges of raising a teenager. Mayo Children’s Initiative (MCI Ireland), meanwhile, created a programme to help children affected by domestic violence and negative family conflict.

Next Steps

As Atlantic concludes grantmaking, we will focus on supporting our grantees in their efforts to mainstream their evidence-informed work that delivers better health and education outcomes for children and young people. We are also building on our strong partnerships with government to help it implement prevention and early intervention approaches on a larger scale for children and youth. Atlantic is committed to external independent evaluation and we will commission a final evaluation of our prevention and early intervention work.

Download the Report


Evaluation of the Children and Youth Programme in Ireland and Northern Ireland (PDF)

Learn More

Evaluations of Participating Programs

Research and Dissemination

Archways, Business in the Community, Centre for Effective Services, Clondalkin Partnership, Early Years, Northside Partnership, Parenting NI and Queens University of Belfast Foundation are Atlantic grantees.