Congressional Briefing Highlights New Research on Early Head Start’s Impacts

On Wednesday, the National Head Start Association (NHSA) and the bipartisan Congressional Pre-K & Child Care Caucus hosted a briefing entitled “The Impact of Pre-K Start on Children and Families Explained.” A panel of early learning experts and leaders spoke about the essential role of Early Head Start (EHS) and provided context on how the program supports the whole family by supporting two generations that benefit children, families and communities .

EHS programs that benefit low-income pregnant women, infants, young children and their families foster child development, support parents in their roles as first caregivers and primary caregivers, and help families make strides toward self-sufficiency. They do this through a variety of services, including home visits; involvement and support of parents; quality child care; and nutritional, health and behavioral health services – all tailored to local and family needs.

Included speakers:

  • Tommy Sheridan, Associate Director, National Head Start Association (NHSA)
  • dr Rachel Chazan Cohen, associate professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Connecticut
  • dr Brenda Jones Harden, Professor of Child and Family Welfare, Columbia University School of Social Work
  • dr Tammy Mann, President and CEO, The Campagna Center
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dr Cohen presented new research on the impact of Early Head Start from the Congress-commissioned Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project Study (EHSREP). This rigorous and randomized longitudinal control study, which analyzed 3,001 children from 17 different EHS program sites, provides conclusive evidence on the impact of EHS on a wide range of outcomes.

EHS families were more likely to receive services related to:

  • occupation
  • Education/Vocational Training
  • early intervention
  • case management
  • childcare
  • dental care
  • education for group education
  • home visit
  • vaccinations
  • parent education
  • transport

According to the study, comprehensive services from EHS result in positive impacts for children and families. Educational and vocational training services provided through EHS have had positive impacts on children’s social-emotional and cognitive abilities, as well as positive parenting behaviors that support children’s learning, development, and family self-sufficiency. Early intervention services resulted in positive cognitive and language outcomes. The provision of parental support and information on child development knowledge through case management, group education and home visits were all found to be effective.

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In addition to discussing the research findings, the panelists emphasized that child care alone is not enough and that comprehensive two-generational services such as those offered by EHS are necessary to create lasting change for children and families.

The panel concluded with recommendations for Congress, including:

Expand Early Head Start

In the last year of the program, Early Head Start helped 243,345 children and pregnant women, but despite its significant impact, only a small fraction of eligible young children have access to services. like dr Mann said the number of children cared for is just a “drop in the bucket, depending on what is needed”.

Increase provider compensation and adjust the cost of living

All participants in the discussion stressed the need to increase provider remuneration. Tommy Sheridan pointed to the NHSA’s latest survey which found there are serious issues with the workforce. Chronically low pay, challenging working conditions and better opportunities from employers that pay more have contributed to challenges in recruiting and retaining workers. Increasing pay and adjusting the cost of living for inflation are critical to attracting and retaining a skilled workforce and delivering quality services.

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Fund more longitudinal data studies

dr Cohen noted that there is an urgent need to expand resources for longitudinal data to study children over time. Longitudinal data is critical to learning more about child development and understanding the role of such services over time.

Expand early intervention services

EHS provides early intervention services for infants and young children who have delays or medical diagnoses. The programs work not only with the child but also with the child’s family to ensure parents have the tools they need to create a healthy, supportive environment for the whole family. dr Harden stressed that many children are not receiving the identification or early intervention services they need due to insufficient government funding. This can have long-term effects on a child’s developmental path and outcomes. The results of the study are important to find strong causal support for early intervention. Expanding services could connect more children and families to critical services.

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