Background: The effectiveness of paraprofessional home-visitations on improving the circumstances of disadvantaged families is unclear. The purpose of this paper is to systematically review the effectiveness of paraprofessional home-visiting programs on developmental and health outcomes of young children from disadvantaged families.
Methods: A comprehensive search of electronic databases (e.g., CINAHL PLUS, Cochrane, EMBASE, MEDLINE) from 1990 through May 2012 was supplemented by reference lists to search for relevant studies. Through the use of reliable tools, studies were assessed in duplicate. English language studies of paraprofessional home-visiting programs assessing specific outcomes for children (0-6 years) from disadvantaged families were eligible for inclusion in the review. Data extraction included the characteristics of the participants, intervention, outcomes and quality of the studies.
Results: Studies that scored 13 or greater out of a total of 15 on the validity tool (n = 21) are the focus of this review. All studies are randomized controlled trials and most were conducted in the United States. Significant improvements to the development and health of young children as a result of a home-visiting program are noted for particular groups. These include: (a) prevention of child abuse in some cases, particularly when the intervention is initiated prenatally; (b) developmental benefits in relation to cognition and problem behaviours, and less consistently with language skills; and (c) reduced incidence of low birth weights and health problems in older children, and increased incidence of appropriate weight gain in early childhood. However, overall home-visiting programs are limited in improving the lives of socially high-risk children who live in disadvantaged families.
Conclusions: Home visitation by paraprofessionals is an intervention that holds promise for socially high-risk families with young children. Initiating the intervention prenatally and increasing the number of visits improves development and health outcomes for particular groups of children. Future studies should consider what dose of the intervention is most beneficial and address retention issues.