What’s so terrible about being two?

: The developmental needs of two-year-olds and implications for service provision In Northern Ireland

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

Abstract

Early intervention has been a recurrent theme in addressing educational underachievement for children who are at risk of experiencing multiple adversities and undesirable outcomes (Dawson, Dunn and Morgan, 2010). However, there has been some dispute regarding the definition of early intervention - as to whether it should be focused on early with regards to chronological age and/or early in relation to the onset of adversities (Dawson et al., 2010). Often service design draws upon the latter, using the Hardiker (1991) model as a framework to measure degrees of adversity. However, whilst there is certainly a need to intervene on experiences of adversity, the first three years of life involve a period of rapid neurological growth that significantly influences later outcomes and so intervening early by the definition of chronological age is also vital (Perry, 2014). More specifically, Mathers, Eisenstadt, Sylva, Soukakou and Ericka-Stevens (2014) report the period of development that occurs between 24 and 36 months is marked by significant advances in language, cognition and social collaboration, all of which are imperative to achieving positive outcomes throughout life. Despite this, McGuiness, Eakin and Connolly (2012) report a significant gap in policy and service provision for two-year-olds in Northern Ireland and Mathers et al., (2014) call for an increase in evidence relating to how services can best meet the unique needs of two-year-olds. Therefore, this study aimed to add to the critical discussions and evidence base on early intervention as a means of improving outcomes for children by considering the developmental needs of two-year-olds and the implications for service provision in Northern Ireland. A convergent parallel mixed methods design was employed to gain a breadth and depth of knowledge from a range of stakeholders including programme co-ordinators, practitioners and parents. The design of the research was holistic, in terms of combining quantitative and qualitative approaches, and pragmatic, in terms of the design giving considerable consideration to the needs and working conditions of the participants. The data collection methods included a systematic review, semi-structured interviews, practitioner surveys, the ages and stages questionnaire (ASQ) and in setting observation studies. Participants were recruited from three programmes, each targeting toddlers aged 24-36 months in a different environment, namely private day care, a pre-school setting and a community based early intervention service. Participants included the co-ordinator/s of each programme, practitioners who currently deliver the programme, toddlers attending the programmes and the parents of said toddlers. The research identified six key findings, namely the lack of uniformity and universality in service provision for two-year-olds, with no clear programme direction or curriculum in place; broad consensus that social, emotional, language and physical development should be prime target areas for this age group; some reluctance and/or anxiety about directly addressing two-year-olds’ cognitive development- possibly due to discomfort with ideas of school readiness, eluding to the ongoing educare debate and lack of clarity on childcare versus early education versus early intervention; the lack of universality in service purpose and design results in some difficulties in designing an appropriate group environment for two-year-olds; the role of parents in service provision for toddlers was also problematic, being viewed as both essential and at times incompatible with service design (particularly in the case of private childcare services); and finally services for two-year-olds are being delivered by a largely under-professionalised workforce- where practitioners pay, qualifications and working conditions do not reflect the reported significance of the age group they are working with. The findings of this study may support the design and delivery of current services for this age group, enabling them to adapt their environment and programme design to best meet the needs of two-year-olds. However, the findings reveal larger issues, particularly the fragmented and under-funded landscape of services for toddlers. Therefore, it is recommended that this is addressed as a matter of priority and that appropriate policy guidance and practitioner training is developed to support the developmental needs of two-year-olds in Northern Ireland.
Date of AwardJul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorLaura Dunne (Supervisor) & Barbara McConnell (Supervisor)

Keywords

  • Early years
  • early childhood
  • early intervention
  • child
  • toddlers
  • two year olds

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