Friday, January 17, 2020
Better Beginnings, Better Futures (Better Beginnings) is one of the most ambitious research projects on the long-term impacts of early childhood prevention programming for disadvantaged children in Canada. This project has received wide national and international attention, interest and support. Better Beginnings is a unique opportunity to apply knowledge about Canadian community-driven solutions that are countering the negative effects for at risk children living in poverty through early childhood intervention. The diversity of the participating communities (Francophone, Aboriginal, recent immigrants, and multicultural) increases the likelihood that findings will be applicable to children across Canada. Findings will provide specific direction to the development of prevention and intervention programs and will enable more informed decision-making about social policy.

We followed a longitudinal research group of children and their families who experienced four years of Better Beginnings prevention programming in eight communities; as well, we followed children and their families in three demographically matched communities that did not receive Better Beginnings funding. From 1993 to 2003, data were collected from over 1500 children and their families and teachers in these sites. In the younger child sites (approximately 800 children), data collection occurred when the children were 3 months old, 18 months, 33 months, 48 months old, and in Grades 1 and 3. In the older child sites (approximately 700 children), data collection occurred when the children were in Junior Kindergarten, Senior Kindergarten, and Grades 1, 2, 3, 6, 9, and 12.

Over 100 outcome measures were gathered at each data collection point covering a wide range of areas such as children’s social functioning, children’s emotional and behavioural problems, academic functioning, child and parent health promotion and health risk behaviours, parent social and emotional functioning, family functioning, community involvement, and neighbourhood quality.

From 1990 to 2000, research was funded by the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services. From 2000 to 2004 research was funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. From 2005 to 2006, the research was funded by the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services. From 2007 to 2010, research was funded by Public Safety Canada.

Currently, with the support of the Max Bell Foundation and other funders, we are engaging in a nation-wide dissemination project to help inform other communities about the Better Beginnings, Better Futures initiative and to assist interested communities in developing similar types of projects.


Research and dissemination of Better Beginnings is ongoing. The Better Beginnings, Better Futures Research Group generates and disseminates scientific evidence from interventions designed to prevent young children in low income, high-risk neighbourhoods from experiencing poor developmental outcomes.

Our Objectives:
  • to promote research in early child development, care and education in Canada
  • to conduct research using state of the art methods
  • to examine short and long-term outcomes of early childhood care and education projects for children, families and communities
  • to analyze costs and sustainability of programming
  • to write grants to fund high quality research, engage in knowledge transfers, and inform public policy with scientific evidence
  • to provide a step-by-step guide for community organizers, health and social service professionals, educators, policy planners, or anyone else interested in setting up a community-based prevention initiative for children and families in their neighbourhood.


To ensure comparable research findings across all sites, the government funded the Better Beginnings, Better Futures Research Coordination Unit (RCU). To address the range of outcomes and programs evaluated for Better Beginnings, the RCU employed a core research team and research director, site research teams, and central support staff.

Core Research Team and Research Director

The past members of the core research team, made up of 16 members and a research director, had primary responsibility for developing the research designs and measurement plans, overseeing the implementation of the research, maintaining the database at Queen's University, and analyzing and reporting the research findings. The core team had the key research expertise required by the project, i.e. quantitative and qualitative research expertise; familiarity with childcare, child and family health, primary school, and social service programming; knowledge of key research areas (child, family, and community; costs and cost-effectiveness; program evaluation); and experience with multidisciplinary research. The Research Director was Ray Peters from the Department of Psychology at Queen's University, and was responsible for integrating research activities, maintaining communication with the government, and ensuring that the research for the entire Better Beginnings Project be was of high quality

The following people were past members of the core research team:


Research carried out in conjunction with the Better Beginnings Project was required to address several major objectives.

1. Outcome Evaluation Research

Objective: "The first research objective of a primary prevention research demonstration project should be to demonstrate how great an effect can be achieved from a primary prevention model. Thus, the Better Beginnings, Better Futures research demonstration package will consist of all promising components that can be launched within the budget constraints and with the support of the community. The purpose of such projects is not to discover the most efficient or leanest package of prevention services, but to determine how effective a reasonably financed and community-supported project can be." (Research Request for Proposals, Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services, 1990).

Questions: Are the Better Beginnings programs effective in:
  • preventing serious emotional and behavioural problems in young children?
  • promoting healthy child and family development?
  • enhancing the abilities of disadvantaged communities to provide for children and their families?

Key Short-Term Outcomes Immediately Following the 4-Year Prevention Program (1998)

Children residing in several of the Better Beginnings communities showed decreased anxiety and depression and improved social skills. Children in the Better Beginnings communities generally benefited from reduced smoking in the home and improved dietary intake. In the younger child sites, children had more timely immunizations at 18 months and parents felt they had better access to professionals, such as doctors and social workers, for their children. In the older child sites, parent ratings of the children’s health improved. The percentage of children receiving special education services decreased in two older child sites, while schools in comparison sites showed increases. Parents in all sites reported an improved quality of life in the Better Beginnings communities, for example, feeling safer or more satisfied with their neighborhood.

Reports and Publications: Research Findings, Short-Term Findings Report. See also Nutrition for publications on children's nutrition.

2. Economic Analysis Research

Objective: "One of the major inadequacies of primary prevention research to date has been the lack of attention to program costs. Often the issue has been ignored. When costs were addressed, they were almost always computed retrospectively. Therefore, the second research objective is to investigate the costs of the Better Beginnings model from the commencement of funding." (Research Request for Proposals, Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services, 1990).

Question: What are the annual costs of the Better Beginnings programs?

The Better Beginnings, Better Futures model is affordable; the average cost is $1,000/child/year which is modest in comparison to U.S. prevention projects of $4,300 - $16,000/child/year.

Question: No other prevention research project in Canada and very few in the United States have comparable economic analyses. By examining costly government expenditures such as special education services, high school dropout, teenage pregnancy, criminal activity, unemployment, and social assistance, we will be able to answer the questions... Does prevention pay? More specifically for public policy purposes, is there credible scientific evidence that for each dollar a legislature spends on “research-based” prevention or early intervention programs for youth, more than a dollar’s worth of benefits will be generated?

See Reports and Publications: Research Findings, Follow-up research, Medium-Term Findings Report for an initial cost benefit analysis.

3. Project Development and Program Model Research

Objective: "The third important research objective is process evaluation and organizational analysis. This area has also been largely overlooked in past research demonstration projects. There has been little documentation of the structure, processes, activities and organization of the programs that are associated with positive outcomes for children. In the Better Beginnings Project, investigating process and organizational issues will be one of the three main research objectives." (Research Request for Proposals, Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services, 1990).

Questions: How do the Better Beginnings communities develop and implement the program model? To what extent are the local demonstration projects characterized by:
  • parent and community involvement?
  • integration of services?
  • comprehensive, high-quality programs?

See Reports and Publications: Overview of Project Development and Research Methods, Local Resident Participation, Building Neighbourhood Capacity, Service Provider Involvement, Building Partnerships, Local Project Organization and Management, and Programs. See also Research Findings Personal Stories).

4. Follow-up Research

Objective: There are very few prevention programs for young children which have followed young children and their families into adolescence and beyond. Policy questions concerning long-term outcomes and cost savings can be answered only by longitudinal research. This is an important research objective of the Better Beginnings Project.

  • What are the medium and long-term effects and cost benefits for children and their families?
  • How sustainable are the local Better Beginnings projects? Do they change in terms of programs, organization, budget? What changes in short-term outcomes for children, families and neighbourhoods occur over the first five years of annualized funding, i.e., 1998-2003?
See Reports and Publications: Research Findings, Follow-up Research.
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