Cluster randomized trial of a parent-based intervention to support early development of children in a low-income country

Child Care Health Dev. 2009 Jan;35(1):56-62. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2214.2008.00897.x. Epub 2008 Oct 30.


Background: Programmes that promote early psychological development of children in the developed world have been found to be beneficial. However, such programmes are rare in underprivileged parts of the developing world. We adapted one such parent-based programme (Learning Through Play) for a rural Pakistani population and aimed to study if: (1) it was acceptable to community health workers; (2) the programme led to an improvement, after a period of 6 months, in mothers' knowledge and attitudes about early infant development; (3) it led to a reduction in the levels of maternal mental distress in the post-natal period.

Methods: Using a cluster randomized design with villages as unit of randomization, 163 mothers from 24 villages in a rural sub-district of Rawalpindi, Pakistan, received the 'Learning Through Play' programme, whereas 146 mothers from 24 villages acted as controls. Twenty-four community health workers were trained to carry out the programme. Assessments were conducted using a specially developed 15-item Infant Development Questionnaire and the 20-item Self-Reporting Questionnaire (SRQ).

Results: Over 80% of the community health workers trained found the programme to be relevant and were able to integrate it into their routine work. There was a significant increase in mothers' knowledge and positive attitudes about infant development in the intervention group, compared with the control group. Women in the intervention group answered correctly 4.3 (95% CI 3.7-14.9, P < 0.001) more questions than the control group. There was no difference in levels of mental distress measured by the SRQ.

Conclusions: The 'Learning Through Play' programme was successfully integrated into the existing health system and accepted by community health workers. The programme succeeded in improving the knowledge and attitudes of mothers about infant development.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child Development*
  • Community Health Workers / education
  • Community Health Workers / psychology*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Health Promotion / methods
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Mothers / education
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Pakistan
  • Play and Playthings / psychology*
  • Rural Health
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult