By Luis Tejerina
It’s difficult for a statistician to reconstruct information about the impact of a policy intervention during the early years of life on an individual who has already reached adulthood. Information is needed over the span of 20 years in order to see effects on dimensions such as income or education levels; therefore, long-term evidence of early childhood development interventions is scarce, particularly in developing countries. For many years, the only evidence of its kind in Latin America and the Caribbean was a longitudinal study carried out in Guatemala. For this nutritional intervention, an effort was made to measure the income and consumption of a cohort for 30 years after the initial intervention (see Habicht, Martorell and Rivera 1995).
Early childhood offers a window of opportunity to strengthen human development. However, we know little about what works in the long term, and we haven’t even discussed the quality of the information collected. Addressing this information gap requires long-term strategic and systematic efforts.
In a recent post on the IDB blog, Alessandro Maffioli described various resources where one can find data for use in social program analysis, for example, administrative data collected by existing programs. This makes me think about the amount of available information, whether on paper or in administrative databases, that has not been used in the area of early childhood development. Bringing to light this type of information may result in the formation of a virtuous cycle, wherein the use of this data leads to a discussion that improves the quality of the data captured and, at the same time, encourages greater use.
In El Salvador, I recognize at least one very good example of this type of opportunity within the Child Information System (SIPI). SIPI is the information system used by the Salvadorean Institute for the Comprehensive Development of Children and Adolescents (ISNA). Since 1999, the system has captured panel data on a biannual basis for all the children at the 204 ISNA centers. In 2011, data was collected on 7,041 children aged 0 to 7 years. This means that we have 13 years’ worth of panel data on the children ages 0 to 7 who were at ISNA centers. The system’s information allows us to observe the progress of the children in terms of biometrics (weight/height), indicators of development (language, social-emotional, motor, etc.), characteristics of the child’s household (income, composition), and attributes of the ISNA centers (access to basic services, infrastructure quality, access to other public services).
Any evaluation of a reform to the model of care requires data over a period of time. Maximizing the use and quality of data in this and other similar examples in the region could be a step towards enriching available information and allowing for low-cost impact evaluations.
Luis Tejerina is an Economist in the Social Protection and Health Division. His work at the IDB has focused on the design and implementation of social protection projects, and especially on evidence-based policy design.