In this fourth issue of the Children’s Research Digest we are delighted to present a special conference edition on the theme of Better Outcomes for Children - Are we there yet? The Conference drew on the national strategies for children in Ireland - Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures (DCYA, 2014) and in Northern Ireland - Our Children and Young People – Our Pledge (OFMDFM, 2006) and posed the question of where we stood on this journey in the realisation of better outcomes for children across a range of domains. Outcomes for children were discussed in various thematic areas, and presenters were also encouraged to reflect on and further investigate the concept of ‘outcomes’ as a framework for mapping changes and improvements in children’s lives. Presenters from workshops across various thematic areas were invited to submit articles based on their presentations, culminating in this special issue.

The first article is a comprehensive overview of the outcomes of the Prevention and Early Intervention Initiative (PEII), in which Rochford, Owens, Doherty and O’Donnell highlight key findings from the Capturing the Learning Series produced by the Centre for Effective Services. The findings invite careful reading by practitioners and policy makers interested in improving outcomes for children living in areas of social disadvantage and are united by a common theme of the need for a strong evidence-base for programmes which aim to improve the outcomes of children and families.

Three articles in this special edition focus specifically on parenting programmes and supports as a means to improve children’s outcomes. Lorna Kerin’s article reports on the implementation and evaluation of a pilot programme targeting parents that are vulnerable to social isolation and mental health difficulties in the perinatal period and first year of their child’s life. In what is a relatively rare programme delivered to mothers during this period of pregnancy and infancy, participating mothers positively reported on the three aspects of the programme (yoga, baby massage and the  Incredible Years parenting programme). Pauline McCleneghan also highlights parents as a major protective factor in early childhood and the importance of providing parental educational supports to optimise responsive parenting in the early years. In her report of a randomised controlled trial of the Growing Child programme as delivered in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, McCleneghan highlights the benefits of evidence-based parenting supports for children’s outcomes in a range of areas including cognitive, socioemotional and language development. Continuing the theme of parents as early educators who impact children’s outcomes directly, Kent, Bleach and Hagan report on evidence in support of the Parent Child Home Programme (PCHP) which is a parenting programme that has been delivered by the Early Learning Initiative in Dublin’s Docklands since 2007. The authors report on international evidence and internal and external evaluations of the PCHP which provide support for the programme’s effectiveness in promoting responsive parenting and literacy activities at home.

Moving to the pivotal role of quality formal early educational experiences in children’s outcomes, Hayes, O’Neill, Rooney and Byrne-MacNamee present initial findings from the Strengthening Foundations of Learning programme. In their article they highlight the mechanisms necessary for improving quality in early years’ settings through changing educators’ practice and enhancing reflective practice. In this way, children’s outcomes, especially those from disadvantaged areas are positively impacted. Carol Ann O’Siorain examines educational support for children with autism and investigates current educational practices to improve literacy outcomes. She highlights the unique learning environments and experiences of children with autism which must be taken into account when aiming to develop literacy skills. Patricia McCarthy explores the experiences of blind/vision impaired young people and adults with regard to the study of mathematics. She presents evidence that while access to the maths curriculum in schools has improved, barriers are still faced by blind/vision impaired students in terms of teacher training n specialised teaching and learning methodologies. 

McCarthy is one of three researchers in this issue to highlight the importance of ensuring children and young people’s voices are heard in research. Brady, Moran and Forkan continue this work in relation to exploring the perspectives of adolescents and their experiences of Youth Cafés as a means of supporting health and wellbeing. Their findings support the implementation of Youth Cafés as a means of improving mental health outcomes for young people, reporting that adolescents found the cafés an important way of connecting to their community, helping them stay safe and providing them with support and opportunities for personal development. The final article in this issue (Horgan, Forde and Martin, 2016) presents findings from a study of children’s decision making in their own lives, commissioned to inform the development of the National Strategy on Children and Young People’s Participation in Decision-Making 2015-2020. Adopting a child participatory qualitative approach to gaining the perspectives of children and young people, the authors found that participants felt they had a voice at home but that this was much more limited in formal educational settings. This lack of consultation was also felt in community settings with the exception of young people who were highly involved in community projects. Interestingly, their research supports that of Brady et al, also in this issue with regard to the need for spaces such as Youth Cafés that provide opportunities for children and young people to engage with their communities and develop personal skills. 

We would like to thank all of the authors who submitted their research for this special edition. It is especially heartening to see the range of environments which have been investigated by the authors of this issue as significant sources of influence on children’s outcomes – home environment, early educators and other formal schooling settings, and youth projects. The consideration given to ensuring the voice of children and young people are heard throughout this research also shines bright in this issue. Special thanks are also due to all the reviewers who took the time to carefully review the articles and make suggestions for improvement. The editors would also like to thank those who assisted with proof reading and Leanne Willars for providing the graphic design and layout. We are especially grateful for the financial support from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs for the printing of this issue.