New research centre to study effect of welfare schemes on early childhood

How do maternity/paternity and health visitor schemes affect the health and development of infants? This question will now be answered by two new PhD projects at the newly established AU RECEIV centre at Aarhus University, Business and Social Sciences.

Within the first week of a child being born in Denmark, a health visitor will come to visit and advise the new parents who are then on paid maternity/paternity leave. Both the maternity/paternity and health visitor schemes are examples of unique Danish welfare policies which allow the parents of newborns time and the right conditions for ensuring the health and well-being of their child. Now two interdisciplinary PhD projects will look at the significance of these schemes for both children and parents.

- Experts from the fields of economics and the social and health sciences are joining forces to find out how to give children the best start in life. This is not just a question of diet, sleeping pattern and breastfeeding, but also of daycare institutions and the parents' time and involvement, says Professor Nabanita Datta Gupta from Aarhus University, Business and Social Sciences.

The two PhD projects are provided with funding to the tune of DKK 3 million from AU Ideas, while at the same time being part of the newly established pilot centre AU RECEIV – Research Center for Early Interventions, under the Department of Economics and Business. The centre will be headed by Nabanita Datta Gupta. The overall objective of the centre is to study the effect of early intervention on the health, well-being and mental development of infants.

A permanent team of six researchers will be working with experts from the School of Public Health, Bispebjerg Hospital, the University of Copenhagen and the Danish National Centre for Social Research (SFI) as well as researchers from universities in Canada, the USA, the Netherlands and Germany.

Eliminating parental doubts
- Parents of infants are often unsure whether what they are doing is right. Therefore, the first PhD project will find the best way of making vulnerable first-time parents feel more comfortable with their new role as parents in the early days, explains Nabanita Datta Gupta.

The health visitor scheme was originally introduced in 1937. A recent initiative is the use of video-based feedback. Using intervention studies, the project will, among other things, establish whether the feedback is working, and how the scheme affects the parent/child relationship.

The other PhD project will look at how children are affected by their parents' working hours in the slightly longer term.

- Very few people have studied the long-term benefits of early intervention, and what we will be looking at is, for example, how the number of hospitalisations of a child is affected by its parents' profession and working hours. Moreover, it is interesting to know how maternity/paternity leave length and the breastfeeding period affect the child's future education and career, explains Nabanita Datta Gupta.

Important knowledge for developing countries
The research will not only help Danish children and parents. The new knowledge about the health visitor scheme can have a significant impact on infant mortality in the developing countries, the head of the centre predicts:

- Very few people living in the villages in the developing countries have access to hospital treatment, and the highest mortality rates are seen in the immediate postnatal period. Important knowledge about the effect of home feedback on illness and breastfeeding may lead to recommendations on low-cost ways of reducing mortality, explains Nabanita Datta Gupta.

Maternity/paternity leave and daycare institutions are high on the EU agenda, and the ambition is for the new centre to apply for funding from the European Research Council in the longer term.

About AU Ideas:
AU Ideas is a new joint initiative established by the Aarhus University Research Foundation and Aarhus University. The foundation has granted funding of DKK 65.5 million to 15 pilot centres which will be spending the next three to five years working on visionary and original research projects.

For further information:

Nabanita Datta Gupta
Professor and head of AU RECEIV
Department of Economics and Business – Economics
Aarhus University, Business and Social Sciences
Tel.: +45 87165207