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The Administration for Children and Families

Sunday, June 9, 2002

STUDY SHOWS POSITIVE RESULTS FROM EARLY HEAD START PROGRAM HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson today released results of a seven-year national evaluation of the federal Early Head Start program showing that 3-year-old children completing the program performed better in cognitive and language development than children not participating in the program. The children also developed behavior patterns that prepared them for success in school, such as engaging in tasks, paying attention and showing less aggression. Parents in Early Head Start showed more positive parenting behavior, reported less physical punishment of their children and did more to help their children learn at home through activities such as reading to their children. The effects of the program were sustained and broadened from earlier assessments completed a year ago when the cohort of children was 2 years old. "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 Secretary Thompson. "The program improves the chances for our youngest and most disadvantaged children to grow up healthy, to learn, and to prepare for school, while providing support to mothers and fathers to improve their parenting and other skills." Early Head Start, a component of the Head Start program, provides high quality child and family development services to low-income pregnant women and infants and toddlers, from birth to age 3. Early Head Start began in 1995 and has expanded to serve approximately 55,000 children and their families in 664 communities across the United States. To study the effectiveness of the program, researchers randomly assigned approximately 3,000 demographically diverse children and families to Early Head Start or a control group and followed them during the first three years of the children's lives. The study found that children completing Early Head Start achieved gains on standardized tests of cognitive and language development, may need fewer special learning interventions later on, and performed better on critical social-emotional tasks, such as relating to their parents, paying attention and behaving appropriately. The study also found that Early Head Start parents were more likely to read to their children, be emotionally supportive, help with language development and show positive parenting behavior. Early Head Start parents also participated more in education and employment-related activities, although average family income did not increase significantly. "This study is important in helping us to understand how early childhood programs can work with families, including fathers, to help prepare children to arrive at school ready to learn," said Wade Horn, Ph.D., HHS assistant secretary for children and families. "The program is also equipping parents with positive strategies to work with their children to promote positive home environments, showing that a large national program that is well-implemented, maintains quality, and focuses on specific child development goals for children and parents can succeed." Because Early Head Start programs serve families that are demographically diverse, the study examined differences according to population subgroups. African-American parents, families that enrolled during pregnancy and those with a moderate number of demographic risk factors were most positively affected. The program also had positive impacts on some groups that other programs have found challenging, specifically teen parents and parents who were depressed when they began the program.