In the final study in this issue of IJBD, Wachs, Cueto and Yao, explore theoretical and empirical models to explain mediation between poverty and development. We present evidence from 52 countries, using UNICEF’s Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) to suggest that the usage of single variables (e.g. maternal education) in mediation models may be of less value than cumulative risk models (i.e. models that identify simultaneously the presence of risk and promotive factors), at least for low- and middle-income countries.
The reason for this is that risk factors tend to be present simultaneously for many children, thus increasing the chances that their development is compromised. Examples of risk factors we use are physical punishment, child illness, lower physical growth and inadequate sanitation at home or in childcare. At the same time, the presence of promotive or protective factors may diminish the harm of the risk factors. Examples of promotive factors are participation in education programs, availability of toys and books for children at home, high maternal education, vaccines and nutritional supplements. The analysis is complex however, given that the analysis would need to incorporate not only the interplay between risk and promotive factors, but also the age of the child and the intensity of risk factors.
Overall, the above papers suggest some pathways to look more deeply at what specific characteristics of the environments the children grow in seem amenable for interventions, so that all children have a fair chance to fully develop their developmental potential. In doing so however, these papers show that interventions need to consider the specific context in which children live and grow.