The purpose of this study was to test the feasibility of an intervention created to stimulate the development of children under the age of seven, living in an institution for children without parental care in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The aim of the intervention was to match each child with one volunteer, trained to deliver three hours per week of individually tailored, play-based activities, for a minimum of one year.
16 children (6 boys) participated in the intervention. Three children dropped out after one month of the intervention due to their placement in foster families, so the final sample consisted of 13 children (4 boys). The children differed in terms of their current age (range 1 to 7 years), the age of admission (range 2 months to 6 years), and the number of years spent in the institution (range 3 months to 7 years).
We applied the pretest-posttest design to assess the children’s development prior to the intervention and three months after the intervention started, using two standardized developmental tests. Each child’s development was compared with the developmental norms typical for their age. Additionally, the caregivers assessed the children’s progress attributable to the intervention via semi-structured questionnaires.
The results showed that all children made clear progress in all developmental areas, except the self-care. The progress was highest in the domains of motor, cognitive and language development, respectively, and the results from both tests were in concordance with the caregivers’ assessments. The caregivers also observed changes in the children’s behavior that were not visible in the standardized testing procedure, mainly the importance of one-to-one relationships between children and their volunteers. The results are discussed with regard to the possibilities for early intervention shown by the study, and the usefulness of this intervention model for both the children and the volunteers.