The trial programme,, which ran from 2008 to 2015, also had a dramatic impact on the children’s health and behaviour.
The participating families were split into either an intervention or a control group, and the mothers were followed from midway through their pregnancy until their children were entering primary school.
The children whose parents received the intervention were less likely to be overweight (23% compared to 41% in the control group) and had fewer behavioural problems (2% compared to 17% in the control group).
The study was run by the Northside Partnership in Coolock, Co Dublin, and the findings were evaluated regularly by the Geary Institute for Public Policy at University College Dublin.
The participating families each received 50 home visits over this period, with mentoring, role modelling, and detailed work-sheets being provided.
Marian Dennis took part in the programme with her son, Jamie McClure Dennis, 5, and saw huge results.
“The most I learned was on the discipline side of things and how to follow through with that,” said Marian. “I always go down to his eye-level and explain what he did wrong.
“I disciplined my eldest child, Lorna, 21, in a different way. You can see the difference between them as a result.”
Marian said she went from being afraid to say ‘no’ to saying ‘no’ as much as possible and remaining constant in her message.
“The discipline for him is better in the long-run. I used to be afraid to say no, thinking that was the right thing,” she said. “I don’t say no to everything. If he has behaved well in school all week then he’ll get a treat at the weekend like going to the park.”
Jamie also spends no time online, neither using a phone nor a computer, and his IQ has increased. Marian says his playtime is one-on-one and includes him drawing or playing Lego with his friends.
The lead researcher at UCD, Orla Doyle, says the study has changed the lives of the participating children forever more.
“These are all statistically significant and in some cases dramatic results,” said Dr Doyle. “The programme has changed the life trajectories of these children: they are healthier, smarter and well-adjusted.
“The results show that developing the skills and knowledge of parents is a particularly effective and impactful approach to changing and improving outcomes for children.”
Noel Kelly, the study’s manager, has called for it to be rolled out nationwide.