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Our Research Projects

Helping Children Achieve (HCA)

Behavioural and learning disorders in children tend to go hand-in-hand. But little is known about how treatments for behavioural difficulties affect children’s literacy, and vice versa. In the long term, children with poor behaviour and learning difficulties are at high risk of doing badly in terms of school achievements. This then increases their chances of anti-social behaviour and criminality as well as affecting their long term life outcomes.

Helping Children Achieve is one of the very few trials of parenting programmes that addresses both children’s behaviour and literacy.


What is the study trying to achieve?

The HCA trial aims to assess the effect of two interventions taking place at the same time - one tries to improve children’s conduct and the other, to improve their reading ability. The key question is can we improve the life chances and opportunities of the most disadvantaged and hard-to-reach children by intervening early. 

How will this benefit parents and families?

The HCA intervention is the first in the UK and Europe to combine a parent training curriculum with a parent literacy programme. The programme guides parents towards more sensitive and positive parenting practices and help them promote their children’s literacy. Already preliminary results show a reduction of anti-social behaviour and an improvement of reading attainment in children from at-risk families. 

The trial

The Helping Children Achieve (HCA) research is evaluating the effectiveness of these interventions and examine what works, for whom and why. The sites participating in the study cover inner-city, multi-ethnic communities living in some of the most disadvantaged conditions (Hackney, London) and typical conditions characteristic of 90% of families in England (Plymouth). 

Families with children in school Year 1 and 2 two are being recruited from schools in Hackney and Plymouth. All families with children who meet the study criteria are invited to participate (except parents who are not fluent in English or children with clinically obvious global developmental delay, a diagnosis of Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder [ADHD] or autism). Participating families are randomly assigned to be offered one of four intervention programmes:

  • a behavioural programme only or
  • a reading programme only or
  • a behaviour and reading programme together or
  • no intervention.

Parents and children undergo semi-structured interviews, answer questionnaires and are directly observed in structured and unstructured settings using DVD recordings, to assess family history, parenting approaches, parent and child psychopathology, behaviour problems, parent-child interaction, family discord, verbal and nonverbal IQ, reading abilities and poignant life events. DVD recording is essential for coding verbal and non-verbal indicators of the relevant domains from the in-depth interviews. Families are assessed at three time points, pre-intervention, eight months later and a final assessment one year later. We aim to recruit over 200 families from Hackney and Plymouth.

About the study

This study aims to examine if it is possible to improve the life chances and opportunities of the most disadvantaged and hard-to-reach children through early intervention. DFES/DCSF research has shown that the quality of young children’s interaction with their parents and their learning experiences with them are a major determinant of social inequalities. 

The intervention is the first in the UK and Europe to combine a parent training curriculum with a parent literacy programme and is supported by promising preliminary results in the reduction of anti-social behaviour and the improvement of reading attainment in children from at-risk families (Scott & Sylva, 2004). There is still much to understand about which interventions work best for young children with conduct problems, in which circumstances, and why. These issues are the focus of the HCA study.


Contact Details


Prof Stephen Scott

Project Lead

Prof Scott


National Academy for Parenting Research
King's College, London
Box 86, 16 De Crespigny Park




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