Afini (i.e., the intervention) is an interactive “virtual assistant” that uses a chatbot to recommend simple, fun, age-appropriate activities that parents and other caregivers can complete with young children to support child development. Afini includes 1,500 activities that have been delivered to 70,000 users in Latin America. Afini’s activity recommendations are evidence-based and reflect principles of behavioral economics (e.g., by providing scientific rationale for the activities). Although they are designed to be “culturally neutral,” Afini activities can be adapted to reflect materials, games, and concepts that are most relevant to a given context or program. Activities focus largely on supporting children’s language, cognitive, motor, and social-emotional development.
We will test the benefits of Afini as an add-on to the Criança Feliz national home visiting program (relative to a control group that will keep receiving the Criança Feliz program as usual) and the relative benefits of specific Afini features, focusing on tradeoffs for cost-effectiveness. Specifically, we will examine:
1. delivery through a standalone app (a lower-cost alternative that does not rely on third-party fees) vs. WhatsApp messenger (an existing provider trusted by families, which may improve engagement);
2. sending alerts (i.e., unsolicited activity recommendations) once (less expensive) vs. twice (more intensive) per week;
3. customizing content to caregiver preference (may improve engagement) vs. children’s developmental needs (may lead to greater child-level impact).
Afini seeks to promote young children’s healthy development by supporting these day-to-day interactions that serve as the basis of nurturing care. Our theory of change is that parents (or other caregivers in the home) will engage with Afini and complete recommended activities with children. These processes will lead to improvements in parents’ knowledge, provision of stimulation, and mental health, which will improve the quality of their interactions with children as well as children’s ECD outcomes (i.e., motor, cognitive, language, and social-emotional skills). We hypothesize that Afini will benefit families already receiving home visiting because, unlike Criança Feliz (which does not currently have a defined curriculum), Afini provides concrete, specific, and customized activity recommendations designed specifically for vulnerable families (e.g., minimal text, few required materials). Furthermore, Afini can be used at families’ convenience, improving accessibility.