Please read the following article and provide a brief response to the following question: Summarize the findings of the task force and determine whether early childhood programs are recommended. In 150 words, provide the key points outlining both the strengths and limitations.
he Effectiveness of Early Childhood Development Programs A Systematic Review Laurie M. Anderson, PhD, MPH, Carolynne Shinn, MS, Mindy T. Fullilove, MD, Susan C. Scrimshaw, PhD, Jonathan E. Fielding, MD, MPH, MBA, Jacques Normand, PhD, Vilma G. Carande-Kulis, PhD, MS, and the Task Force on Community Preventive Services
Overview: Early childhood development is influenced by characteristics of the child, the family, and the broader social environment. Physical health, cognition, language, and social and emotional development underpin school readiness. Publicly funded, center-based, com- prehensive early childhood development programs are a community resource that promotes the well-being of young children. Programs such as Head Start are designed to close the gap in readiness to learn between poor children and their more economically advantaged peers. Systematic reviews of the scientific literature demonstrate effectiveness of these programs in preventing developmental delay, as assessed by reductions in retention in grade and placement in special education. (Am J Prev Med 2003;24(3S): 32–46) © 2003 American Journal of Preventive Medicine
Child development is an important determinantof health over the life course.1 The early years oflife are a period of considerable opportunity for growth and vulnerability to harm. Children’s develop- mental trajectories are shaped by sources of resilience as well as vulnerability. The cumulative experience of buffers or burdens is a more powerful determinant of children’s developmental well-being than single risk or protective factors.2 Early developmental opportunities establish a critical foundation for children’s academic success, health, and general well-being.3
Critical dimensions of child development are self- regulation, the establishment of early relationships, knowledge acquisition, and the development of specific skills. These dimensions are affected by individual neurobiology, relationships with caregivers, and physi-
cal and psychosocial exposures in the caregiving envi- ronment.4 The interaction of biology and the social environment exerts a powerful influence on a child’s readiness to learn and on success in school, both antecedents to health outcomes in later life.5,6
In addition to frequently cited risk factors for devel- opmental dysfunction (e.g., premature birth, low birth weight, sequelae of childhood infections, and lead poisoning), exposure to an economically impoverished environment is recognized as a social risk factor.7–9 The socioeconomic gradient in early life is mirrored in cognitive and behavioral development.10
In the United States, where the rate of child poverty is substantially higher than that of most other major Western industrialized nations,11 children are almost twice as likely as any other age group to live in poverty. Among children under age 18, 16% (more than 11 million children) live in families with incomes below the federal poverty threshold ($13,861 for a family of three in 2000).11 Early childhood intervention pro- grams seek to prevent or minimize the physical, cogni- tive, and emotional limitations of children disadvan- taged by poverty.12
Comprehensive early childhood development pro- grams are designed to improve the cognitive and social-emotional functioning of preschool children, which, in turn, influences readiness to learn in the school setting. Low family income and community poverty lead to racial and ethnic achievement gaps. A recent U.S. Department of Education study shows, for example, that 71% of white children entering kinder- garten could recognize letters, compared with 57% of
From the Division of Prevention Research and Analytic Methods, Epidemiology Program Office, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Anderson, Shinn, Carande-Kulis), Atlanta, Georgia; the Task Force on Community Preventive Services and Columbia Univer- sity (Fullilove), New York, New York; the Task Force on Community Preventive Services and University of Illinois, Chicago, School of Public Health (Scrimshaw), Chicago, Illinois; the Task Force on Community Preventive Services, Los Angeles Department of Health Services, and School of Public Health, University of California, Los Angeles (Fielding), Los Angeles, California; National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health (Normand), Bethesda, Maryland
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Laurie M. Ander- son, PhD, MPH, Community Guide Branch, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4770 Buford Highway, MS-K73, Atlanta GA 30341. E-mail: LAA1@cdc.gov.
The names and affiliations of the Task Force members are listed at the front of this supplement, and at www.thecommunityguide.org.
32 Am J Prev Med 2003;24(3S) 0749-3797/03/$–see front matter © 2003 American Journal of Preventive Medicine • Published by Elsevier doi:10.1016/S0749-3797(02)00655-4
African-American children.13 School readiness, partic- ularly among poor children, may help prevent the cascade of consequences of early academic failure and school behavioral problems: dropping out of high school, delinquency, unemployment, and psychological and physical morbidity in young adulthood.14 There is a strong relationship between measures of educational attainment and a wide range of adult disease outcomes.15
Head Start, the national preschool education pro- gram designed to prepare children from disadvantaged backgrounds for entrance into formal education in primary grades, tries to bridge the achievement gap.16
The program is based on a comprehensive view of the child that includes cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development, as well as the ability of the family to provide a supportive home environment. The ulti- mate goal of Head Start is “To bring about a greater degree of social competence in pre-school children from low-income families.”17
This approach is reflected in Head Start’s program objectives17:
1. Enhance children’s growth and development. 2. Strengthen families as the primary nurturers of their
children. 3. Provide children with educational, health, and nu-
tritional services. 4. Link children and families to needed community
services. 5. Ensure well-managed programs that involve parents
in decision making.
Created in 1965, Head Start has served more than 20 million children in its first 35 years. In 2001 the federal budget for Head Start was $6 billion,18 and state investments in early childhood initiatives grew to $2.1 billion for programs for preschoolers.19 The potential impact of early childhood development programs is substantial: in 1997, 62% of the more than 10 million working mothers in the United States had children under age 6, and 13 million children attended early care and education programs each day.17
The results of this review can help to improve public health policies for young children. Children’s readiness for school encompasses a range of skills that children need to thrive.20 Supports are most critical for children who are at high developmental risk due to poverty.
The Guide to Community Preventive Services
The systematic reviews in this report represent the work of the independent, nonfederal Task Force on Com- munity Preventive Services (the Task Force). The Task Force is developing the Guide to Community Preventive Services (the Community Guide) with the support of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) in collaboration with public and private part- ners. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC) provides core staff support to the Task Force for development of the Community Guide. A special supple- ment to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, “Introducing the Guide to Community Preventive Ser- vices: Methods, First Recommendations and Expert Commentary,” published in January 200021 presents the background and the methods used in developing the Community Guide.
Healthy People 2010 Goals and Objectives
Healthy People 201022 draws attention to the intersection of health outcomes, cognitive outcomes, and social outcomes and to the educational and income inequal- ities that underlie many health disparities. Early child- hood development opportunities are an intermediate determinant of individual and community health out- comes. Communities, states, and national organizations are urged to “take a multidisciplinary approach to achieving health equity—an approach that involves improving health, education, housing, labor, justice, transportation, agriculture, and the environment, as well as data collection itself.”22
Information from Other Advisory Groups
The first goal of the National Education Goals panel (created in 1994 by the Goals 2000: Educate America Act) is “By the year 2000, all children in America will start school ready to learn.”23 Selected goals and objec- tives from Healthy People 201022 and the National Edu- cation Goals related to early childhood development23
are presented in Table 1. The panel established a national priority for research in education: improve learning and development in early childhood so that all children can enter kindergarten prepared to learn and succeed in elementary and secondary school.
The Institute of Medicine issued corresponding rec- ommendations in 2000.24 The Committee on Capital- izing on Social Science and Behavioral Research to Improve the Public’s Health convened to identify promising areas of social science and behavioral re- search for improving the public’s health. Two of their nine recommendations apply to early childhood edu- cation interventions:
• Recommendation 2: Rather than focusing on a single or limited number of health determinants, interven- tions on social and behavioral factors should link multiple levels of influence (i.e., individual, interper- sonal, institutional, community, and policy levels).
• Recommendation 6: High quality, center-based early education programs should be more widely imple- mented. Future interventions directed at infants and young children should focus on strengthening other processes affecting child outcomes such as the home environment, school and neighborhood influences, and physical health and growth.
Am J Prev Med 2003;24(3S) 33
The general methods for conducting systematic reviews for the Community Guide have been described in detail else- where.25 Methods specific to social environment and health reviews are described in this supplement.26 The analytic framework used for the early childhood development pro- gram reviews, shown in Figure 1, is derived from the social environment and health logic model (also in this supple- ment26). In the logic model, “opportunities for education and for developing capacity” serve as intermediate indicators along a pathway linking resources in the social environment to health outcomes.
The systematic review development team (the first six authors of this article) postulated that early childhood devel- opment programs work by directly improving preschool par- ticipants’ cognitive and intellectual performance in early childhood. This early gain increases participants’ motivation and performance in subsequent years, ultimately leading to higher educational attainment and a reduced drop-out rate. In addition, the team postulated that early childhood pro- grams improve children’s social competence and social inter- action skills, which, combined with higher educational attain- ment, helps to decrease social and health risk behaviors. As education increases so does income: both factors are associ- ated with improved health status and a reduction in mortality and many morbidities.
The health component of early childhood programs leads to preventive screening services, improvements in medical care, or both, which subsequently can improve health status and indirectly improve educational attainment (i.e., by iden- tifying conditions that could impede learning through vision screening, hearing screening, or other means). The family component promotes both a supportive home environment for healthy development—which may be enhanced by partic- ipation in health and educational opportunities—and job training and employment opportunities for mothers in the child development centers, ultimately supporting the child in all domains.
Selection of Interventions
For this review, we defined early childhood develop- ment programs as publicly funded comprehensive pre- school programs designed to increase social compe- tence in children, aged 3 to 5 years, at risk because of family poverty. Programs reviewed included Head Start as well as other early childhood programs serving disadvantaged families. Programs are “center-based” (i.e., in a public school or child development center), providing an alternative physical and social environ- ment to the home. A few programs also included a home visitation component. Programs operated full or half days, 9 to 12 months a year.
The systematic review development team assessed early childhood development programs in terms of four different categories of outcomes: cognitive, social, health, and family. Each outcome was evaluated by specific measures.
• Cognitive outcomes: academic achievement test scores, school readiness test scores, IQ test scores, grade retention, and placement in special education;
• Social outcomes: assessment of child’s social compe- tence (behavioral assessments of social interaction) and assessment of social risk behaviors (teen preg- nancy, teen fatherhood, high school drop-out, unem- ployed, use of social services, delinquency, arrests, and incarceration);
• Child health screening: receipt of health screening tests and dental examination within past year; and
• Family outcomes: mother achieving high school graduation, father achieving high school graduation, family income above poverty level, mother employed, father employed, not receiving public assistance, and health screening for siblings of Head Start students.
Table 1. Selected National Education Goals and objectives23 and Healthy People 2010 goals and objectives22 related to early childhood development
National Education Goals and Objectives Goal 1: By the year 2000, all children will start school ready to learn Objectives: • Children will receive the nutrition, physical activity experiences, and health care needed to arrive at school with healthy
minds and bodies and to maintain the mental alertness necessary to be prepared to learn, and the number of low birth weight babies will be significantly reduced through enhanced prenatal health systems
• All children will have access to high-quality and developmentally appropriate preschool programs that help prepare children for school
Goal 2: By the year 2000, the high school graduation rate will increase to at least 90%
Healthy People 2010 Goals and Objectives Maternal and Child Health Goal: Improve the health and well-being of women, infants, children, and families Prenatal Care Objective: Increase the proportion of pregnant women who receive early and adequate prenatal care (Objective 16-6) Risk Factor Objectives: Reduce low birth weight (LBW) and very low birth weight (VLBW) (Objective 16-10) Reduce the occurrence of developmental disabilities (Objective 16-14) Education and Community-Based Programs Goal: Increase the quality, availability and effectiveness of educational and community-based programs designed to prevent disease and improve health and quality of life School Setting Objective: Increase high school completion; target: 90% (Objective 7-1)
34 American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 24, Number 3S
We searched in five computerized databases: PsychINFO, Educational Resource Information Center (ERIC), Medline, Social Science Search, and the Head Start Bureau research database. Published annotated bibliographies on Head Start and other early childhood development research, reference lists of reviewed arti- cles, meta-analyses, and Internet resources were also examined, as were referrals from specialists in the field. To be included in the reviews of effectiveness, studies had to
• document an evaluation of an early childhood devel- opment program within the United States,
• be published in English between 1965 and 2000, • compare outcomes among groups of people exposed
to the intervention with outcomes among groups of people not exposed or less exposed to the interven- tion (whether the comparison was concurrent be- tween groups or before-and-after within groups), and
• measure outcomes defined by the analytic framework for the intervention.
The literature search yielded a list of 2100 articles. These titles and abstracts were screened to see that the article reported on an intervention study (as opposed
to program process measures, description of curricula, and so on). On the basis of this screening, 350 articles were obtained and assessed for inclusion. Of these articles, most were excluded because they were descrip- tive reports and not intervention studies. Fifty-seven articles that met the inclusion criteria listed above were evaluated. Of these articles, 41 were subsequently ex- cluded because of threats to validity, duplication of information provided in an already-included study, lack of a comparison group, or lack of an examination of outcomes specified in the analytic framework. The remaining 16 studies (in 23 reports) were considered qualifying studies (see Evaluating and Summarizing the Studies in the accompanying article26), and the find- ings in this review, summarized in Table 2, are based on those studies.
Reviews of Evidence Effectiveness
Cognitive outcomes. We identified 12 studies27–43 (re- ported in 17 papers) examining cognitive outcomes, including academic achievement, school readiness
Table 2. Effectiveness of early childhood development programs on various outcomes: summary effects from the body of evidence
Outcome No. of outcome measures
Percentage point change (range)a
Standard effect sizeb
Cognitive outcomes Academic achievement test scores 2927,28,31–41 �0.35 School readiness test scores 427,30,38,42 �0.38 IQ test scores 1631,32,35,36,39,40,42,43 �0.43 Grade retention 728,31–33,36,39,41 �13% (�25% to �2%) Placement in special education 827–29,31,32,36 �14% (�23% to �6%)
Social outcomes Assessment of child’s social competence
Behavior assessments of social interaction 338,45,46 �0.38 Assessment of social risk behaviors 729,40,41
Delinquency scale �0.60 Teen pregnancy �49% Teen arrests �20% High school graduation �17% Employed �27% Welfare use �14% Home ownership �23%
Child health screening outcomes Receipt of health screening tests 147 �44% Dental exam within past year 147 �61%
Family outcomes Mother achieving high school graduation 148 �4% Father achieving high school graduation 148 �3% Family income above poverty 148 �7.4% Mother employed 148 �21.6% Father employed 148 �5.8% Not receiving public assistance 148 �16% Health screening for siblings of Head Start students 147 �11%
aWhere percentage point change was reported, the effect size calculated is the difference between the intervention and the control group. bIn studies where means were reported, the effect size calculated is the difference in means between the intervention and the control group, divided by the standard deviation of the control group.
Am J Prev Med 2003;24(3S) 35
tests, IQ, grade retention, and special education place- ment. Measures and effect sizes are provided in Appen- dix A. We used the standard effect size as a common metric to compare test scores reported from the variety of cognitive instruments.44 (This effect size is calculated as the difference in means [of the reported test scores] between the intervention and the control group, di- vided by the standard deviation of the control group. This measure can be understood as standard deviation units when comparing mean scores between the inter- vention and control groups. When percentage point change was reported for cognitive outcomes [e.g., retention in grade and placement in special educa- tion], the effect size calculated is simply the difference in change between the intervention and the control group.)
Nine studies27,28,31–41 (reported in 13 papers) mea- sured academic achievement through use of standard- ized academic achievement assessments, such as the Woodcock Johnson or California Achievement Test. Six of these studies27,31,32,34–41 demonstrated increases in academic achievement for students enrolled in early
childhood development programs, one study28 re- ported a negative effect, and two studies27,33 provided no data to calculate effect sizes. The median effect size for academic achievement was 0.35.
Three studies27,30,38,42 used standardized tests, con- sisting of cognitive skills assessments relevant to kinder- garten curricula, to measure outcomes in terms of school readiness. All three studies demonstrated in- creases in school readiness for students enrolled in an early childhood development program. The median effect size for school readiness was 0.38.
We identified seven studies31,32,35,36,38–40,42,43 (re- ported in nine papers) that measured cognitive out- comes in terms of intellectual ability (i.e., IQ) through use of standardized tests, including the Stanford-Binet and the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children. Six studies31,32,35,36,39,40,42,43 demonstrated increases in IQ for students enrolled in an early childhood develop- ment program: nine measurements found positive ef- fects on IQ within 1 year after the intervention and seven measurements reported positive effects 3 to 10 years post-intervention. The median effect size for IQ
Figure 1. Analytic framework used to evaluate the effectiveness of programs for improving children’s readiness to learn and preventing developmental delay.
36 American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 24, Number 3S
was 0.43. Although these results are positive, the influ- ence of this gain in IQ on longer-term health and social outcomes is not known.
Student retention rates (i.e., being held back in grade) were measured as cognitive outcomes in five qualifying studies28,31–33,36,39,41 (reported in seven pa- pers). Four of these studies28,31,32,36,39,41 demonstrated decreases in retention rates for students. Another study33 reported a positive effect for early childhood development programs on retention rates but provided no data to calculate effect sizes. The median effect size for retention was a 13% difference in retention rates for participants enrolled in early childhood development programs. Retention in grade is highly predictive of failure to graduate from high school, and high school graduation is an important precursor to socioeconomic well-being and improved health status.
Five studies27–29,31,32,36 (reported in six papers) mea- sured cognitive outcomes in terms of special education placement. Children placed in special education be- cause of developmental delays, disabilities, or other sources of learning difficulty must meet diagnostic criteria before placement occurs and, according to U.S. Public Law 94-142, must have specialized curricular plans developed to meet specific education, develop- mental, and counseling needs. All five studies demon- strated reduction in special education placement for students who had been enrolled in early childhood development programs. The median effect size for special education placement was a difference of 14%.
Social outcomes. Five studies29,38,40,41,45,46 (reported in six papers) examining social outcomes were included in this review. Three studies38,45,46 measured increases in social competence (e.g., reductions in impulsivity and improvements in classroom behavior and intrinsic motivation). At 1 year post-intervention, two studies45,46
demonstrated benefits in social competence for stu- dents enrolled in an early childhood development program, and one38 showed a negative effect for pro- gram participants.
Two studies29,40,41 (reported in three papers) exam- ined long-term social outcomes for students enrolled in early childhood development programs. Both studies demonstrated long-term decreases in social risk behav- iors. The Perry Preschool program, which followed participants to age 27 and was the intervention exam- ined in these studies, yielded noteworthy results.41
Compared with nonparticipants, program participants experienced significant improvements in high school graduation, employment status, and home ownership, as well as significant reductions in teen pregnancies, delinquency, arrests, and receipt of social services.
Child health screening outcomes. Only one qualifying study47 evaluating child health screening outcomes was identified; other studies that examined these outcomes were noncomparative and, therefore, did not meet
Community Guide study design criteria.25 Hale et al.47
found that students in early childhood development programs had increased health screenings and dental examinations compared with those who did not partic- ipate in such programs. The study reported a 44% difference in receipt of eight health screening exami- nations and a 61% difference in receipt of dental examinations among program participants compared with controls. According to Community Guide rules of evidence,25 because of limitations in design and execu- tion, this single study alone does not provide sufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of early child- hood development programs on improving child health screening outcomes.
Family outcomes. Two studies47,48 examined a family outcome or outcomes. Oyemade et al.48 examined the effects of early childhood programs on parental and household outcomes, including educational attain- ment and employment status, household poverty level, and household receipt of public assistance, and found positive effects for each of these outcomes. Hale et al.47
examined the effects of early childhood development programs on health outcomes for siblings of program participants and found an increase in receipt of health screenings among siblings of program participants compared with controls. Because there were only two studies, which looked at different outcomes and had limitations in their design and execution, the evidence was insufficient according to Community Guide stan- dards25 to determine the effectiveness of early childhood development programs on improving family outcomes.
Summary of outcomes and effect measures. In the qualifying studies we identified a total of 90 effect measures for the four outcomes (cognitive, social, child health screening, and family) in our analytic framework (as shown in Appendix A). More than 70% of the effects reported were in the cognitive domain, with limited evidence available for social, health screening, and family outcomes. Within the cognitive domain, consistent improvements were found in measures of intellectual ability (IQ), standardized academic achievement tests, standardized tests of school readi- ness, promotion to the next grade level, and decreased placement in special education classes because of learn- ing problems. The Task Force considered (1) retention in grade and (2) placement in special education as preventable outcomes that result from developmental delay or dysfunction. Less is understood about the relevance of gains in IQ scores to later educational achievement and future success in life.
The 16 studies in this review were conducted in various locations in the United States. Nine were conducted in urban settings,27,33–35,37,42,43,45,46 three in suburban set-
Am J Prev Med 2003;24(3S) 37
tings,28,29,47 one in a rural setting,39 and three in mixed settings.30,36,40 Various target populations were studied: African American in six studies29,36,39,40,43,45 and mixed populations, including Latino, Asian, Native American, and others, in three studies.30,36,40 Seven studies did not report the ethnicity of the population stud- ied.27,28,30,33–35,42 These findings are likely to generalize to similar populations of disadvantaged preschool children.
Other Positive or Negative Effects
Neither the systematic review development team nor the reviewed literature identified harms or other ben- efits in the body of evidence.
One study conducted in a low-income area in Ypsilanti, Michigan, modeled the costs and benefits of the Perry Preschool program.49 The study was conducted in preschool facilities and homes throughout the low- income community. The population consisted of 128 African-American 3-year-olds of low socioeconomic sta- tus, from a single school attendance area. The study had a follow-up of 24 years, but lifetime benefits were factored in. The intervention group received 2.5 hours of classroom time with four teachers each weekday and one 1.5-hour home teacher visit. The program lasted 30 weeks. The comparison group did not receive a pre- school program. Costs included were teacher and sup- port salaries, school overhead, classroom supplies, and future educational expenses (college). The quantified benefits included lifetime salary differential, avoided welfare costs, and avoided costs of criminal activity. The net benefit of the program in 1997 US$ was $108,516 for males and $110,333 for females. This study was classified as very good according to Community Guide quality assessment criteria.50 The Perry Preschool pro- gram differs from other programs, however, in terms of the degree of support and quality of implementation, and its results, therefore, cannot necessarily be gener- alized to less intensive programs such as Head Start. Nevertheless, careful consideration of the program is valuable because of the importance of the outcomes, the lasting long-term effects, the consistency of findings across numerous measures, and the strong quality of the research design.
Barriers to Intervention Implementation
The systematic review development team did not iden- tify any barriers to implementation.
A strong body of evidence shows that early childhood development programs have a positive effect on pre- venting delay of cognitive development and increasing readiness to learn, as assessed by reductions in grade
retention and placement in special education classes. Evidence of improvements in the results of standard- ized academic achievement and school readiness tests supports this conclusion. At the time of this review, according to Community Guide rules of evidence,25 evi- dence about the effects of early childhood develop- ment programs on social cognition and social risk behaviors was limited to the longitudinal results of a single program and, therefore, was insufficient to for- mulate a recommendation. However, the significant results and strengths of the research on the Perry Preschool program merit continued attention as other longitudinal studies begin to emerge. Evidence was also insufficient to determine the effectiveness of early childhood programs on child health screening out- comes and family outcomes because of a lack of suffi- cient comparative studies examining these outcomes.
The search for suitable studies evaluating the effective- ness of early childhood development programs on factors other than intellectual functioning revealed significant gaps in research. Although the body of published research is large, relatively few studies assess program impact on subsequent health, well-being, and social success. A 1997 Government Accounting Office report on Head Start found the body of research inadequate for drawing conclusions about its national impact because of a limited focus on short-term cogni- tive measures.51 The report also noted important meth- odologic and design weaknesses, such as non-compara- bility of comparison groups and lack of the large representative samples necessary to produce results that can be generalized to the national program.
The lack of scientific evidence about social outcomes, child health screening outcomes, and family outcomes is noteworthy, especially because these outcomes relate specifically to program objectives and mandated com- ponents in Head Start programs. In terms of social outcomes, a lack of standardized measures and the challenges of implementing longitudinal follow-up may have contributed to the paucity of evidence in this important domain. New research funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, including the National Head Start Impact Study and the Quality Research Consortium II,52,53 holds promise of provid- ing more information on social and emotional devel- opment, communication skills, physical well-being, and the family effects of Head Start programs.
It is encouraging that, in addition to the high level of national attention generated by the results of the Perry Preschool program, other promising longitudinal stud- ies with strong research designs examining the impact of early childhood development programs have re- cently been published and have garnered interdiscipli- nary interest. (These studies were not included in our
38 American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 24, Number 3S
systematic review because they did not compare partic- ipation in comprehensive early childhood development programs with nonparticipation.) One such study54
looked at the long-term (15-year) effects of the Chicago Child-Parent Center Program, compared with other early childhood intervention programs, on educational achievement and juvenile arrest among low-income African-American children in Chicago. Another longi- tudinal study55 examined the relation of the quality of preschool child care to children’s development during their preschool years, and subsequently as they moved into a formal elementary education system. The need still exists, though, for additional studies of strong experimental or quasi-experimental research design using appropriate social, health, and family outcome measures to generate sufficient scientific evidence of the effects of early childhood development programs in these domains.
Research also needs to be expanded to closely exam- ine core characteristics of effective and efficient early childhood development programs: teacher–stu- dent ratio, curriculum structure, optimum intensity (i.e., hours per day, months per year), qualifications of program staff members, and levels of parental involvement.
Finally, the complex interactions of biology, individ- ual and family characteristics, and the social and phys- ical environments posited by the Community Guide’s social environment and health logic model26 under- score the need for additional research, consistent with an ecologic perspective.56 Although there is strong evidence from early childhood intervention studies that improvements in cognitive function can translate into early school success, understanding the full impact of childhood social environments on later life experiences will require an interdisciplinary, multilevel research approach. The Office of Behavioral and Social Science Research of the National Institutes of Health has called for integrated sociobehavioral and biomedical re- search,57 and an example of this kind of undertaking can be found in a collaborative study authorized by the Children’s Health Act of 2000.58 This act authorizes the National Institute for Child Health and Development to collaborate with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute for Environmental Health Science, and the Environmental Protection Agency to conduct a national longitudinal study of environmental influences (including physical, chemi- cal, biological, and psychosocial) on children’s health and development. This interdisciplinary research will be critical to generating needed information for policy decisions on funding and coordination of early child- hood development programs within the context of interrelated community services. Current levels of fed- eral and state funding for early childhood development programs are not adequate to support accessible, qual-
ity services for the number of at-risk children who could potentially benefit from participation.59
Extant program evaluations in the field of early child- hood education consist primarily of retrospective anal- yses of nonexperimental data. As a result, the majority of studies included in the early childhood development reviews are classified as “moderate” in quality by Com- munity Guide criteria.25 It should be acknowledged that study design preferences can reflect disciplinary differ- ences in social science research methodology. An un- fortunate consequence of this is that some valuable information from promising research could not be included in this review because of the absence of comparison groups—a study attribute deemed neces- sary by the Task Force for attributing effects to an intervention program. A useful example is a study of Head Start by the National Bureau of Economic Re- search.60 This study, a retrospective analysis of nonex- perimental data drawn from the Panel Survey of In- come Dynamics, reports on positive long-term outcomes of interest, including educational attain- ment, earnings, and criminal behavior.
A strong body of evidence shows that early childhood development programs have a positive effect on pre- venting delay of cognitive development and increasing readiness to learn, as assessed by reductions in grade retention and placement in special education classes. Evidence of improvements in standardized tests of academic achievement and school readiness support this conclusion. A finding of insufficient evidence to determine effectiveness in the areas of children’s be- havioral and social outcomes, children’s health screen- ing outcomes, or family outcomes should not be seen as evidence of ineffectiveness. Rather, it identifies a need for additional quality research.
Given the complexities of human development, no single intervention is likely to protect a child com- pletely or permanently from the effects of harmful exposures, pre- or post-intervention. Nonetheless, the strong evidence of cognitive benefits of early childhood development programs is encouraging. We expect that center-based, early childhood development interven- tions will be most useful and effective as part of a coordinated system of supportive services for families, including child care, housing and transportation assis- tance, nutritional support, employment opportunities, and health care.
Use of the Recommendation
Interventions that improve children’s opportunities to learn and develop capacity are particularly important for children in communities disadvantaged by high
Am J Prev Med 2003;24(3S) 39
rates of poverty, violence, substance abuse, and physical and social disorder.
Communities can assess the quality and availability of early childhood development programs in terms of local needs and resources and can use the Task Force recommendation to advocate for continued or ex- panded funding of early childhood development pro- grams. Current levels of federal and state funding are not adequate to support accessible quality services for the number of at-risk children who would benefit from participation.59 Child health advocates from all disci- plines can use this recommendation to develop testi- mony for those making policy and funding decisions about the effectiveness of these programs. Healthcare providers can use the recommendation to promote participation in an early childhood development pro- gram as part of well-child care. Public health agencies can use the Task Force recommendation to inform the community about the importance of early childhood development opportunities and their long-lasting ef- fects on children’s well-being and ability to learn.
Summary: Findings of the Task Force
Early childhood development programs are recom- mended on the basis of strong evidence of their effec- tiveness in preventing delay of cognitive development and increasing readiness to learn, as shown by reduc- tions in retention in grade and placement in special education. Evidence was insufficient to determine the effects of these programs on social cognition and social risk behaviors, because only the Perry Preschool pro- gram results were available.29,41 Evidence was also in- sufficient to determine the effect of early childhood development programs on child health screening out- comes and family outcomes because too few compara- tive studies examined these outcomes.
We thank the following individuals for their contributions to this review: Evelyn Johnson, Community Guide Research Fellow; Joe St. Charles, Community Guide Research Fellow; Onnalee Henneberry, Research Librarian; Kate W. Harris, Editor; and Peter Briss for technical support.
Our Consultation Team: Regina M. Benjamin, MD, MBA, Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic, Bayou La Batre, Ala- bama; David Chavis, PhD, Association for the Study and Development of Community, Gaithersburg, Maryland; Shelly Cooper-Ashford, Center for Multicultural Health, Seattle, Washington; Leonard J. Duhl, MD, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, California; Ruth Enid- Zambrana, PhD, Department of Women’s Studies, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland; Stephen B. Fawcette, PhD, Work Group on Health Promotion and Community Development, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas; Nich- olas Freudenberg, DrPH, Urban Public Health, Hunter Col- lege, City University of New York, New York, New York; Douglas Greenwell, PhD, The Atlanta Project, Atlanta, Geor- gia; Robert A. Hahn, PhD, MPH, Epidemiology Program
Office, CDC, Atlanta, Georgia; Camara P. Jones, MD, PhD, MPH, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, CDC, Atlanta, Georgia; Joan Kraft, PhD, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, CDC, Atlanta, Georgia; Nancy Krieger, PhD, School of Public Health, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Robert S. Lawrence, MD, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Mary- land; David V. McQueen, National Center for Chronic Dis- ease Prevention and Health Promotion, CDC, Atlanta, Geor- gia; Jesus Ramirez-Valles, PhD, MPH, School of Public Health, University of Illinois, Chicago, Illinois; Robert Sampson, PhD, Social Sciences Division, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois; Leonard S. Syme, PhD, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, California; David R. Wil- liams, PhD, Institute for Social Research, University of Mich- igan, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Our Abstraction Team: Kim Danforth, MPH, Maya Tho- landi, MPH, Garth Kruger, MA, Michelle Weiner, PhD, Jessie Satia, PhD, Kathy O’Connor, MD, MPH.
We would like to acknowledge financial support for these reviews from the Collaborative Center for Child Well-Being and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
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