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April 2012Vol. 13, No. 3Palm Beach County Prevention Evaluation

For more than 10 years, Florida's Palm Beach County has implemented an early intervention and prevention system of care program to promote healthy child development and school readiness in four of the county's low-income areas. Chapin Hall was commissioned by the county to conduct a 6-year longitudinal study of the program. A recent report by Chapin Hall details the findings from the final year of the project and examines families' use of services and outcome correlates.

The system of care utilized a combination of the Maternal Child Health Partnership (MCHP)—a program of services specifically designed to serve expectant mothers or new mothers—and an array of other coordinated services to meet families' medical, psychological, parenting, educational, and other social services needs. The study also examined initiatives that support and promote school readiness, such as the Quality Counts improvement system for early care and education programs.

The study evaluated maternal functioning by assessing factors including depression, parenting stress, and parenting practices. Child outcomes were evaluated by assessing, as reported by mothers, factors such as language development, cognition, and social-emotional behaviors. School readiness outcomes were reported by teachers and assessed using the Florida Kindergarten Readiness Screening. The most recent report centers on information from all 5 years, with a particular focus on information gathered from the 310 mothers who participated in each of the five annual surveys.

At the end of year 5, results showed that most mothers had received MCHP services around the time of their child's birth, and mothers with the most risk factors (e.g., teen mothers, parents of children with special needs) were more likely to receive MCHP services at that time. In year 5, almost all mothers reported receiving assistance with basic needs such as health care and child care. However, there were no significant correlates between family use of services and improved child development or school readiness, nor were there correlates between types of services used and improved outcomes.

Noting that the county was able to engage many at-risk families in need of services at the time of the child's birth, the authors made several recommendations for future development, including:

  • Improve the quality and effectiveness of parenting supports and education.
  • Improve access to and quality of early care and education.
  • Increase efforts to help families stay involved in or become reconnected to services over time.
  • Enhance training of service providers.
  • Strengthen relationships between the county system of care and other community supports and services.

Supporting Low-Income Parents of Young Children, The Palm Beach County Family Study Fifth Annual Report, by Julie Spielberger, Lauren Rich, Marcia Gouvêa, Carolyn Winje, Molly Scannell, Kristin Berg, Allen Harden, and the reports from 2007–2011 are available on the Chapin Hall website: