HELP examines how early experiences affect inequalities later in life

HELP stands for the Human Early Development Partnership and is a childhood development research network based at UBC. HELP examines children’s early experiences in order to understand how they affect inequalities later in life.

According to Deputy Director Pippa Rowcliffe, HELP’s research has three core pieces. The first is about genetics and how biology effects gene expression, the second relates to large-scale population monitoring of all B.C. children and finally, creating policies and programs help support children and families.

According to Rowcliff, HELP has developed a lot since it received a grant from the province of B.C. when the program was initially created.

“It took us three years to gather data on children in every part of the province and since then we’ve built a system of data capture that we’ve managed across the last 12 years. Every year we gather data on children and report them,” said Rowcliff.

A new data collection tool that HELP began using in the last several years is called the middle development instrument, which children in grades 4 through 7 can complete that allows HELP to track data about them much later in life, according to Rowcliff.

So far, the most important thing HELP has learned is that the first six years of life seriously impact an individual’s physical well-being, language and cognitive development, social confidence and emotional maturity.

According to Rowcliff, the first six years of life are “absolutely critical to lifelong heath and well being,” so much so that HELP has been able to actually show how early experiences correlate with diseases and health later in life.

“Our data shows that even though in B.C., children recently have been doing much better in their language and cognitive skills, over the last 10 years, we have seen much higher vulnerability rates in children’s social confidence and emotional maturity,” said Rowcliffe. “These are things that are linked to mental health later on in life so that’s a big area of concern for us.”

According to Rowcliffe, there are significant differences in children’s development from neighbourhood to neighbourhood in B.C.

“We work really closely with community groups to help them develop a plan that will allow them to work with community partners to put in place programs and services,” said Rowcliffe.