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Jeanne Brooks-Gunn: Early Head Start Children Outpace Peers

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Jeanne Brooks-Gunn: Early Head Start Children Outpace Peers

Professor Jeanne Brooks-Gunn

Young children who take part in Early Head Start have stronger cognitive skills, better vocabularies, and more positive attitudes than children who are eligible to participate in the program but do not, according to a newly released, seven-year evaluation of the federally financed child-development effort. What's more, parents of children in Early Head Start are more likely to support their learning, use positive parenting techniques, and improve their own education and job skills than those who did not receive the services, the study shows.

According to Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Virginia and Leonard Marx Professor of Child and Parent Development and Education, "We looked at 17 Early Head Start sights across the country and randomly assigned children to a control group, or to receive the Early Head Start services at their site, and then we evaluated whether or not the children who were in Head Start looked different than did the children who were in the control group."

"We found that children who participate in Head Start had higher cognitive test scores at 2 and 3 years of age than the children in the control group. The early Head Start children exhibited less aggressive behavior. And the early Head Start children interacted more positively and were more engaged with their parents."

"The overall pattern of favorable impacts is promising, particularly since some of the outcomes that the programs improved are important predictors of later school achievement and family functioning," concludes the study, which was conducted by TC's Center for Children and Families, Mathematics Policy Research of Princeton, New Jersey, and the Early Head Start Research Consortium.

Brooks-Gunn said, "This study shows the broadest impact across a variety of outcomes of any federal program for young children that's been evaluated. That is very positive in terms of arguing that Early Head Start services can be effective in different communities. Another implication is that these kinds of services really do put children and their parents on a path towards school readiness and literacy. We also found that that programs that offer mixed services, which means home visiting and center-based care, have a stronger impact than programs that were just offering home visiting services. The implication is that early Head Start programs throughout the country should certainly consider having a more mixed program approach."

The $654 million program, which serves infants and toddlers from low-income and at-risk families, also makes a greater impact on children and their parents when key aspects of the program-such as child development, health services, family development, and training for the staff-are fully implemented. "Early Head Start fulfills an important part of this administration's objective to support families through prevention and early-childhood education and to promote literacy for both parents and children," said U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson, about the results.previous page