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The Effectiveness of Early Head Start for 3-Year-Old Children and Their Parents: Lessons for Policy and Programs
Early Head Start, a federal program begun in 1995 for low-income pregnant women and families with infants and toddlers, was evaluated through a randomized trial of 3,001 families in 17 programs. Interviews with primary caregivers, child assessments, and observations of parent– child interactions were completed when children were 3 years old. Caregivers were diverse in race– ethnicity, language, and other characteristics. Regression-adjusted impact analyses showed that 3-year-old program children performed better than did control children in cognitive and language development, displayed higher emotional engagement of the parent and sustained attention with play objects, and were lower in aggressive behavior. Compared with controls, Early Head Start parents were more emotionally supportive, provided more language and learning stimulation, read to their children more, and spanked less. The strongest and most numerous impacts were for programs that offered a mix of home-visiting and center-based services and that fully implemented the performance standards early.