Research findings by Reva Klein
Disadvantaged pre-schoolers in Europe are not being targeted for services that address their problems.
Even in Belgium, where overall rates of pre-school attendance are good, few measures are specifically aimed at deprived children.
Early childhood intervention programmes in Europe have been influenced by American "war on poverty" projects developed in the 1960s, such as Project Head Start and HighScope.
Studies of these and other projects have shown positive impacts on children's school achievement, motivation and social behaviour when participation starts early, before age three. Lower participation could reinforce poor children's disadvantage.
The UK, Belgium, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal and Spain have big variations between them. In Britain, there are few publicly-funded places for children under three and these tend to be directed at infants who are deemed to be "most at risk". Young children from socially deprived homes are less likely to attend pre-school and when they do, the quality of care is likely to be less than it should be.
Ireland, which also suffer from limited early-years services and lack of co-ordination and standardisation of pre-school services, boasts some exemplary programmes specifically designed for disadvantaged children.
The study found that in many countries a divide between welfare and education services works against some children. In addition, special services for poor children tend to be delivered as supplementary programmes rather than within mainstream provision.
"Early Chldhood Education: provision for children from disadvantaged backgrounds", Emer Smyth, Economic and Social Research Institute, Dublin. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.