Recent neurobiological and psychological research has established that vital development occurs in language, cognitive, motor and socio-emotional development during the first few years of life, and early life outcomes are key determinants of adult outcomes such as educational achievement, labor market outcomes, and health. Yet more than 200 million children under age five in low and middle income countries (LMICs) will fail to reach their developmental potential as adults, predominantly due to poverty, poor health and nutrition, and inadequate cognitive and psychosocial stimulation. Early childhood development (ECD) interventions that integrate nutrition and child stimulation activities have been proposed as a powerful policy tool for the remediation of early disadvantages in poor settings, and numerous field studies have shown they can be effective in improving children's developmental and health outcomes, at least in the short-term. Key questions remain on what models of delivery are the most effective and cost-effective that can be potentially scalable in LMICs, as well as how to sustain parental behavioral changes over time, which can lead to long-term improvements in child development and the possibility of positive spillovers to benefit younger siblings. Having a better understanding of the underlying behavioral pathways leading from intervention, to parental behavior changes, to child impacts, is also key to inform policy about the optimal design of interventions to maximize their scalability and sustainability. This study will conduct a multi-arm clustered randomized controlled trial across 60 villages and 1200 households in rural Western Kenya that tests different potentially cost-effective delivery models for an ECD intervention with a curriculum that integrates child psychosocial stimulation and nutrition education. Selected households will undergo baseline and follow-up surveys to measure short-term impacts in parental behaviors and children's developmental outcomes, and the study will collect data on potential mediators of parental behavioral change to uncover the pathways leading to impacts. Two follow-up surveys, one immediately after the end of the planned intervention and a second two years later, will enable testing of the short term and midterm sustainability of impacts, as well as the presence of any spillovers onto younger siblings. In collaboration with a local NGO, the Safe Water and AIDS Project (SWAP), community health volunteers (CHVs) will be trained to implement the intervention by introducing the ECD curriculum in their villages.
The goal of this study is to provide policymakers with rigorous evidence of how best to expand ECD interventions in low-resource rural settings.