Study demonstrates significant improvements in child development in urban Bangladesh

A recent study conducted by icddr,b scientists along with their partners in urban Bangladesh has revealed substantial advancements in child development through a pioneering parenting and nutrition education programme. Published in The Lancet, the research, titled "Effect of a parenting and nutrition education programme on development and growth of children using a social safety-net platform in urban Bangladesh: a cluster randomised controlled trial," sheds light on the critical impact of early childhood interventions in low-and-middle-income countries (LMICs).
 
The study addresses the pressing issue of early childhood development in urban Bangladesh, focusing on children aged 0-3 years. With developmental programmes often overlooked for this age group, particularly in urban areas, the research seeks to bridge the gap and provide essential support to vulnerable families.
 
Among the 599 participating mothers, 299 attended intensive parenting skill workshops alongside their children aged 6-15 months, while the remaining 300 served as the control group across 20 clusters in Rangpur city, Bangladesh. The intervention group received fortnightly sessions of Early Childhood Development (ECD)-focused parenting and nutrition education delivered by local Community Health Workers (CHWs) over a one-year period.
 
The programme utilised the lactating allowance programme, a social safety-net initiative by the Government of Bangladesh, to provide ECD-focused interventions to vulnerable urban families, with eligible mothers receiving an unconditional cash transfer of 800 BDT per month through this initiative.
 
After one year, 45% of children participating in the program showed significant progress in their cognitive abilities, language skills, and motor skills compared to those who didn't. Additionally, mothers in the program reported a reduction in domestic violence, while fathers were more engaged in activities promoting early childhood development with their children. Furthermore, families involved in the program demonstrated enhanced home stimulation and maternal knowledge of childcare practices. However, despite these positive outcomes, the study found no significant improvement in the physical growth of the children.
 
Sheikh Jamal Hossain, Associate Scientist, icddr,b and Principal Investigator of the project said, "This research underscores the importance of early childhood interventions, particularly in urban settings of LMICs. By providing targeted parenting and nutrition education through existing social safety-net platforms of the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, we have demonstrated tangible improvements in child development outcomes. This intervention also proved that if the mothers or caregivers are trained in parenting, their mental health status can also be improved.”
 
The programme employed diverse approaches to support early childhood development, including providing stimulating toys, picture books, and puzzles for interactive play sessions, as well as specialised training sessions to enhance mothers' skills in utilising these resources effectively. Additionally, techniques were introduced to enrich communication between mothers and children, fostering language acquisition. Essential parenting skills such as discipline, affection, praise, and encouragement were emphasised to empower mothers in creating nurturing environments conducive to optimal child development.
 
The study underscores the transformative potential of targeted interventions in bolstering early childhood development, particularly in urban settings where such initiatives are scarce. By equipping mothers with the knowledge and skills necessary to foster their children's holistic growth, the research not only addresses immediate needs but also lays the groundwork for scalable interventions with far-reaching societal impacts, in alignment with SDG 4.2. Dr Jena Derakshani Hamadani, Emeritus Scientist, icddr,b also worked closely on this project.