The Nationale Wetenschapsagenda (national science agenda) has granted Erasmus School of Economics, together with Erasmus MC Sophia and 25 other organisations, 1.32 million euro to give children a promising start using big data.
Parents and professionals to be involved in the research from the outset
Together with 25 universities, knowledge institutions and healthcare organisations, Bastian Ravesteijn, Assistant Professor of Applied economics at Erasmus School of Economics and main applicant of the consortium, will investigate how prospective parents and parents can best be supported during pregnancy and the early childhood of their children. For this purpose, new data from preventive youth healthcare will be pseudonymised and made available under strict conditions for research at Statistics Netherlands, and pseudonymised data on pregnancy and the health and development of hundreds of thousands of children will be examined. Extensive measures will be in place to protect the privacy of parents and children in accordance with the standard procedures of Statistics Netherlands.
Research will be carried out to investigate how these data can help prospective parents, parents and professionals to decide which care and support is most appropriate in practice. To support parents and professionals in this, an open source computer programme is being written, one which will be easy to use. Parents and professionals will be involved in the research from the outset, and they will use the results in practice.
Bastian Ravesteijn is pleased with the grant: ‘There is a great deal of information available in the Netherlands about the health and development of children and the circumstances in which they grow up. This project will be combining this information for the first time in the secure environment of Statistics Netherlands (CBS). We will be able to follow a child from the time its mother first visits a midwife through primary school and beyond, and all of this will be done under strict conditions designed to protect privacy. In this way, we will be trying to understand how prevention and care can best meet the needs of parents and children. And then we will be putting the findings into practice!’
Unique data about child health and development available for research
The project will enrich the existing data infrastructure at Statistics Netherlands. Ravesteijn: ‘A system like the Dutch Youth Healthcare system, where the health and development of virtually all children is monitored, is difficult to come by anywhere else in the world.’
He continues: ‘The work done by Youth Healthcare, i.e. the care provided by baby clinics and school doctors, concerns informing parents, early detection of risks, short-term interventions and referrals. If we link youth healthcare data to all data on health, development and education, then for the first time we can provide an integrated picture of how children fare from pregnancy to adulthood.
This opens the door for a lot of research, from describing relationships that could not be studied before through to measuring the effects of interventions and policies. Most of the 38 regional youth healthcare organisations have joined this consortium and in the coming year we will start discussions with the rest of the youth healthcare organisations. It would be wonderful if other researchers could ultimately access this data via Statistics Netherlands under very strict conditions. Hopefully, this project will take great strides in that direction, together with our youth healthcare partners and the Netherlands Centre for Youth Healthcare. And ultimately, of course, all this new knowledge must be translated into a promising start for all children.’
Tailor-made healthcare and prevention
The project will use machine learning methods and big databases to investigate how data on children during pregnancy and early childhood can be used to target existing kinds of prevention and healthcare more effectively. In this respect, the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), a consortium partner, will develop a computer programme – called JAMES – that allows parents and healthcare providers to see at a glance what is striking about the information that the healthcare provider has collected in its own file. This will give parents and healthcare providers the opportunity to discuss what a child needs, while at the same time allowing room for the human dimension.
During the project, 14 professionals in maternity care and youth healthcare are going to get to work with JAMES, the software that will support them to find out what works and what needs to be improved. This will be done in three ‘testing beds’, regions where a lag of opportunities exists, that is displayed on the KansenKaart.nl, a website that maps out equality of opportunity in the Netherlands. Maternity care and youth healthcare organisations in these regions, i.e. Rotterdam, Twente and South Limburg, therefore play an important role in the consortium.
The National Science Agenda
The Nationale Wetenschapsagenda, which was drawn up after every Dutch person had the opportunity to ask scientists questions online, will finance the research. Questions from those in practice and society were answered by an interdisciplinary and knowledge-wide consortia, making it easy for new knowledge to flow through to the user. Ravesteijn: ‘It’s great that we have the opportunity to connect so many different organisations, from knowledge institutions to practical organisations and citizens. This topic is ideally suited for an approach like this.’ The National Science Agenda question that is key to this research is: “How can children grow up safely and in good health?”
The consortium consists of the Netherlands Centre for Youth Healthcare, the Department of Obstetrics of Erasmus MC Sophia, Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, Municipal Health Service South Limburg, Maastricht University, the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research, the Verwey-Jonker Institute, the University of Amsterdam, and Erasmus School of Economics. The consortium also includes numerous partners from the field of maternity care and youth healthcare, as well as the Department of Ethics and Healthcare Law at the Leiden University Medical Centre, Radboud University Medical Centre, Pharos and the Bernard van Leer Foundation.