Handbook of Early Childhood Intervention (2nd Edition). Jack P. Shonkoff and Samuel J. Meisels (Editors). New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
This comprehensive reference book should be part of the collection of every student and professional concerned with the state of the field of early childhood intervention. Policymakers, researchers, professors, and graduate students from diverse disciplines (i.e., social work, social policy education, pediatrics, nursing, physical and occupational therapy, speech and language pathology) will find this volume to be a scholarly examination offering both depth and breadth in its presentation of the many dimensions of the field. Both Shonkoff and Meisels have devoted much of their professional lives to the art and science of early childhood development, health, welfare, and intervention. Their own work is cutting edge, and they both have a long history of pushing the field forward through insightful analysis and the development of new paradigms.
In his foreword to this edition, Edward Zigler (himself a pioneer in the field) states, “If the earlier edition of this handbook represented the coming of age in the field of early childhood intervention, the presentation of this edition surely marks the beginning of its maturity” (p. xi). Indeed, over the last 10 to 15 years, we have witnessed an explosion of new knowledge not only concerning child growth and development, but also those interventions that increase the probability of maximal development. The tremendous expansion in the field of brain development has added credibility to theories concerning the importance of early experience on such functions such as language acquisition, motor control, emotional regulation, and cognitive development. The connections between “nature” and “nurture” can be demonstrated through brain imaging techniques, offering support and direction to program developers and researchers as they now know with certainly what they always felt intuitively: Early environments do have impact on a child's later ability to cope, learn, and develop a healthy self-esteem.
We have also seen the growth of programs and intervention methods designed to ameliorate developmental delay or deviance. Continuation of early intervention programs such as Head Start and passage of P.L. 99-457 (which encouraged states to develop early intervention programs for infants and toddlers with disabilities) are but two examples attesting to the strong constituency and powerful advocacy the field of early childhood enjoys among families, researchers, clinicians, and politicians. With the growth and development of both old and new programs, the standards have been raised for analysis of the practice of intervening with young children and their families. What does work? Why does it work? What does it mean to say that an intervention has been or is successful? How do we quantify and qualify the far-reaching benefits to vulnerable children and families of well-known intervention projects? These questions are defining the field, as more rigorous research moves us along in answering them. As Shonkoff and Meisels state in their preface to this edition:
We have witnessed the transformation of this arena from a modest collection of pilot projects with primitive empirical foundations, precarious funding and virtually no public mandates, to a multidimensional domain of theory, research, practice and policy. Today, the world of early childhood intervention contains a growing knowledge base, a dynamic service enterprise, and a highly significant policy agenda. (xvii)
Shenkoff and Meisels have compiled a volume that offers the current work of the best thinkers in our field. If one is just awakening after a 10-year nap (or has not kept up with journal reading) cover-to-cover reading of the Handbook will bring you up to speed. The book is divided into seven sections. I believe it would have been helpful if each section were introduced by the editors, provided with an overview and necessary background information. (Such an overview does appear in the preface but would have been more useful as a section introduction.) Part One consists of one chapter by the editors that focuses on historical perspectives and an overview of the evolution of early childhood intervention. In Part Two readers will discover how changing concepts of developmental vulnerability and resilience influence (and are influenced by) adaptive/maladaptive parenting, developmental risk, diverse cultural competencies and internal/external protective factors. Part Three offers a strong rationale for early intervention through the presentation of current theoretical frameworks, including transactional, psychodynamic, behavioral–educational and neurobiological approaches. In Part Four, readers will delve into approaches to assessment that are dynamic and far-reaching. In this section the authors offer insight and challenge to four areas of assessment: the child, parent–child dyads, the family and community/neighborhood characteristics. Part Five contains descriptions of a range of service delivery models and systems that are cutting edge examples of interventions with a diverse range of targets. This section concludes with two chapters whose authors offer insightful commentary on the use and training of paraprofessionals as well as personnel preparation for high quality early childhood intervention professionals. Program evaluators or researchers will find thought-provoking chapters on measuring the impact of service delivery in Part Six, in which authors delve more deeply into investigative approaches and their relevance and utility. The section provides an overview of the current knowledge about the efficacy of programs on children and families and includes three appendices that summarize findings on efficacy of three types of early childhood programs for parent/family outcomes. This section concludes with the latest cost–benefit research and the economics of early childhood intervention. The Handbook closes with a section entitled “New Directions for the Twenty-First Century,” which is composed of three chapters whose authors explore the relationship between knowledge, policy, and practice and the challenge that their interaction presents to a future generation of early childhood program developers and analyzers.
For those new to the field, this book provides a fine foundation for academic development. Students can examine early childhood intervention from a variety of perspectives and as they probe into chapters of particular relevance to them, they will be provided with exceptional content as well as extensive references to direct future study. University professors or instructors will find Handbook of Early Childhood Intervention useful in organizing course content, providing a text and reference book for students, and renewing or refreshing their own knowledge of diverse areas of the field. Finally, for policymakers, program developers, or evaluators, the Handbook provides insights and directions that can guide the analyses necessary for their work. The chapters provoke one towards new ways of thinking about old issues. They offer challenges to form questions of inquiry that will serve to push early childhood programs, interventions, and systems forward.
Each chapter was chosen by the editors to reflect the diversity and richness of the arena as it exists at the beginning of the 21st century. Each distinguished author has contributed work that combines scholarly research with practical implication and usefulness. The editors put knowledge of the field in perspective and provide a roadmap for future research and development.