Children Who Complete Intensive Early Childhood Program Show Gains In Adulthood

Armen Hareyan's picture

By the time they reached adulthood, graduates of an intensive early childhood education program for poor children showed higher educational attainment, lower rates of serious crime and incarceration, and lower rates of depressive symptoms than did non-participants in the program, reported researchers in a study funded in part by the National Institutes of Health.

The Child-Parent Centers (CPC) program in the Chicago Public School System provided intensive instruction in reading and math from pre-kindergarten through third grade, combined with frequent educational field trips. The children's parents received job skills training, parenting skills training, educational classes and social services. They also volunteered in their children's classrooms, assisted with field trips and attended parenting support groups. The CPC program is distinct from the federally funded Head Start program.


"These results strongly suggest that comprehensive early education programs can have benefits well into adult life," said Duane Alexander, Director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the NIH institute that funded the study. "A comparatively small investment early in life is associated with gains in education, economic standing, mental health, and other areas."

The research team that conducted the study was led by University of Minnesota investigators Dr. Arthur J. Reynolds, professor at the Institute of Child Development, and Dr. Judy A. Temple, professor at the Humphrey Institute and Department of Applied Economics. The researchers followed the children from ages 3 or 4 through age 24 to assess the possible benefits of the CPC program in terms of the children's educational achievement, need for remedial education, involvement with the child welfare and foster care system, economic status, involvement with the criminal justice system, health status and mental health. The study appears in the August Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Dr. Reynolds and his coauthors followed a group of 1,539 low-income children in the Child-Parent Center (CPC) program, administered by the Chicago Public Schools in Chicago, Illinois. Roughly 1,000 children in the study were enrolled in the CPC program at ages 3 or 4 and 500 were enrolled in the comparison group, which was made up of children in alternative early childhood education programs. Children in the CPC group were matched to children in the comparison group of similar age and background. The study began following the children in 1985 and 1986. Families moved into and out of the area during the time the study took place, so not all children completed all components of the CPC program. The children in the study were 93 percent African American and 7 percent Hispanic.

Because the study did not assign children randomly to the two groups, it cannot conclusively prove that the CPC program caused the gains observed in its graduates. However, the study results strongly suggest that the program produced lasting benefits