Early Head Start Benefits Children and Families

A national evaluation conducted by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., and Columbia University's Center for Children and Families, in collaboration with the Early Head Start Research Consortium, found:

  • At the end of the program, 3-year-old Early Head Start (EHS) children performed significantly better on a range of cognitive, language, and social and emotional development measures than a randomly assigned control group. Additionally, the parents of the 3-year-olds scored significantly higher than control group parents on many aspects of home environment, parenting behavior, and progress toward self-sufficiency.
  • Two years after the end of the program, prior to children entering kindergarten, positive impacts of EHS remained in areas of children’s social and emotional development, parenting, and parent well-being. Furthermore, those children who experienced EHS followed by formal early childhood education experiences (e.g., center-based child care, Head Start, or state pre-kindergarten) tended to have the best overall outcomes at the start of school.
  • By fifth grade, there was some evidence of sustained impacts of EHS on children’s social and emotional well-being, although we did not see the broad pattern of impacts for child and family outcomes found at earlier ages. Nonetheless, positive impacts persisted for some subgroups of children and families. For example, EHS demonstrated sustained impacts on children’s social and emotional development, parent support for education, and parent mental health among African-American families.

The Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project (EHSREP) began in 1996, at the time the Early Head Start program was created. It involved 3,001 children and families in 17 sites; half received EHS services and half were randomly assigned to a control group that did not receive EHS services. Parents and children were assessed when the children were 14 months, 24 months, 36 months old, in the spring prior to kindergarten entry, and again in the spring of the sixth year of formal schooling (fifth grade for most children).

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