Growing out of the recommendations of the 1993 Advisory Committee on Head Start Quality and Expansion and the 1994 Advisory Committee on services for Families with Infants and Toddlers, and building on the bipartisan mandate embodied in the 1994 Head Start reauthorizing legislation, Early Head Start began with 68 new programs in 1995. Today, with impetus added by the 1998 reauthorization, more than 600 programs serve some 45,000 low-income families with infants and toddlers. This two-generation program provides high-quality child and family development services, a focus on staff development, and a commitment to community partnerships. A rigorous national evaluation, including about 3,000 children and families in 17 sites, also began in 1995. This summary report highlights the first main impact findings emerging from the analysis of child and family outcomes through the first two years of the children’s lives.
The national evaluation, conducted by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., of Princeton, New Jersey, and Columbia University’s Center for Children and Families at Teachers College, in collaboration with the Early Head Start Research Consortium, finds that after a year or more of program services, when compared with a randomly assigned control group, 2-year-old Early Head Start children performed significantly better on a range of measures of cognitive, language, and social-emotional development. Their parents scored significantly higher than control group parents on many of the measures of the home environment, parenting behavior, and knowledge of infant-toddler development. Early Head Start families were more likely to attend school or job training and experienced reductions in parenting stress and family conflict. Although these impacts are generally modest in size, the pattern of positive findings across a wide range of key domains important for children’s well-being and future development is promising. (author abstract)