• May/June 2001
  • Vol. 2, No. 3

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Early Head Start Children and Parents Thriving

Infants and toddlers from low-income families enrolled in the Early Head Start Program have passed a preliminary evaluation with flying colors. Their parents also are thriving.

The national evaluation, which began the same year the Early Head Start Program was launched in 1995, measured child and family outcomes through the first two years of the children's lives. Recently released preliminary results from a study of 3,000 children and families show that after a year or more enrolled in the program, 2-year-old Early Head Start children outperformed a control group in cognitive, language, and social-emotional development tests. Parents in the program exhibited positive parenting behavior, reported less physical punishment, provided learning opportunities for their children at home, and experienced less stress.

Compared to control children, Early Head Start 2-year-olds showed the following:

  • Higher scores on standardized assessment of cognitive development
  • Larger vocabularies and the ability to speak in more complex sentences
  • Less risk of slower developmental learning.

Compared to control mothers, Early Head Start mothers were:

  • More supportive of promoting learning, language, and literacy at home by reading and engaging in structured play activity
  • More supportive, more sensitive, less detached
  • Less likely to report spanking their child in the past week and more likely to resolve problems by using milder discipline techniques, such as distraction and discussion.
Early Head Start Mothers also reported lower levels of family conflict and stress related to parenting.

Early Head Start offers a full-range of services in three different formats: home-based, center-based, and mixed settings. Although the performance of children and parents in each program differed, the evaluation found the services provided were of generally high quality and produced significant impacts regardless of the format. Programs that fully implemented the Head Start Program Performance Standards scored the best results.

The evaluation will continue for another year, following the children through their third birthdays. The final evaluation, due next year, will provide more detailed information, including impact assessments for different subgroups of low-income families and effects of additional exposure to the program.

Related Item

For more information about Head Start programs, visit the website of the Head Start Information and Publication Center (HSIPC), a service of the Head Start Bureau, which supports the Head Start community and other organizations working in the interest of children and families by providing information products and services; conference and meeting support; publication distribution; and marketing and outreach efforts (http://www.headstartinfo.org).

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