NEEDS ASSESSMENT: Training for Professionals
Who Work with Young Children


      Invest in Kids Foundation is concerned about the current state of training and education in child development. Therefore, the Foundation underwrote a survey of professionals who regularly work with young children to assess their knowledge about child development, to identify training needs and gaps in the area of healthy child development and to inform decisions by both the Foundation and the professions about future training directions.

      The Centre for Research and Education in Human Services implemented the study, sending questionnaires to the following 7 groups of professionals: 1) early childhood educators, 2) child welfare workers, 3) public health nurses, 4) family support workers, 5) children's mental health psychologists and social workers, 6) speech and language therapists, and 7) infant development specialists. 370 completed questionnaires were eligible for analysis, averaging 50 returns per profession. The responses were generally geographically representative of Ontario.

      KNOWLEDGE: The seven professions as a whole rated themselves as having the most knowledge about the topics of early identification and assessment, parenting, child development and attachment. The professions reported having the least knowledge about: brain development and topics about birth (e.g. prenatal risk factors, infant capacities, newborn appearances and multiple births), cultural sensitivity and transition to school.

      IMPORTANCE: The respondents rated the following child development topics as most important to their professions: early identification and assessment, parenting, child development, attachment and brain development. The professions reported the following topics to be less important:: transition to school, issues around birth (prenatal factors, new born behaviour and multiple births) and child care.

      GAP between knowledge and importance: In sum, the importance ratings match the knowledge ratings, except brain development is rated among the most important topics and child care issues falls among the less important. In fact, each individual professional group showed brain development as the topic with the largest, or second largest, gap in rankings between level of importance and level of knowledge. In simple terms, professionals in each occupation think brain development is important, but they do not know much about it.

      TRAINING PARADOX: Respondents listed their preferred topics for future training. The findings revealed a training paradox. Professionals are most interested in receiving training on parenting capacities and skills, the topics about which they already report having high knowledge. Further, the professionals are least interested in receiving training on brain development and cultural issues, areas where they have the least knowledge, but which they also identify as important. On the basis of this survey, professionals appear to want training in child development areas they already think they know about, and not to want training on topics they say are important, but about which they know little.


      In laying the groundwork for training in child development, it is not enough to identify what professionals know and don't know, or what they think is important or not important. We need to know what professionals want to know. The challenge is to create a course of professional improvement in key areas of child development that is both engaging and relevant.

      Since the topics viewed as important (brain development, cultural sensitivity and transition to school) are easy to relate to the topics the professionals say they want training (such as parenting capacities and skills), the most promising training approach is to marry the topics-of-interest to the topics-of-importance. This is a path to narrow the gap between knowledge and practice, and ultimately promote healthy child development.

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