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Journal Issue: Long-Term Outcomes Of Early Childhood Programs Volume 5 Number 3 Winter 1995

Long-Term Effects of Early Childhood Programs on Social Outcomes and Delinquency
Hirokazu Yoshikawa

Early Education and Family Support Programs

Early education and family support programs provide a range of emotional, informational, instrumental, and/or educational support to families with infants and preschool-age children. Early education programs are usually center based, and their core service is usually to provide an educational curriculum to groups of preschoolers or infants and toddlers, but they can also provide services as varied as basic preventive health care, informational support regarding parenting and child development, and emotional support.

In contrast, most family support programs focus primarily on the parents, not the children, and emphasize providing support of various kinds to parents, often through home visits. Family support programs can help parents in their roles as parents or educators of their children, or support the parents' own educational or occupational goals. These types of programs are increasing in popularity, and the 1993 Family Preservation and Support Act provides federal funding for them (see Box 1).

The two models of early intervention are not mutually exclusive. Some family support programs have an educational child care or preschool component, and some predominantly child-focused educational programs also offer supportive services for parents or services to enhance parenting skills. Based on the literature regarding risk factors for delinquency, it is those combination programs that address multiple risk factors and that blend aspects of both family support and early childhood education which are most promising in the prevention of chronic delinquency.

Scope of the Review

A computer and manual search of the literature from the fields of psychology and education identified 40 evaluations of interventions that (1) served populations which displayed the risk factors associated with later delinquent or antisocial behavior (for example, low household income, single parent, low parental educational level, low birth weight and/or preterm birth); (2) provided services between the prenatal period and entry into primary school; (3) assessed possible effects on risk factors for chronic juvenile delinquency and/or possible effects on antisocial behavior or delinquency; (4) were carried out in the United States or Canada; and (5) had adequate research design.23-61 When a single program was evaluated in both randomized trials and less well-controlled designs, only the results for the randomized trial are reported. When multiple evaluations exist for a single project, only the most recent is cited. (Barnett reviews many of these same programs in his article in this journal issue, and the reader may wish to consult Table 1 in his article.)62

These 40 programs and their effects are listed and described briefly in Tables 2-4. Each table describes programs that represent one of three general models of services: Table 2 reviews eight child-focused early education programs,23-30 Table 3 describes 23 parent-focused family support programs, 31-53 and Table 4 covers 11 programs that provided both kinds of services.35, 53-61 (Two programs appear in both Table 3 and Table 4).63

Most of the 40 evaluations explored the effects of the programs on factors many of which have been discussed earlier as risk factors for chronic delinquency. For this review, these risk factors were grouped into three broad categories: early cognitive ability (including early IQ, school achievement, and language development or verbal ability), early parenting factors (including assessments of mother-child interaction, parenting behavior, attachment, and child welfare indicators), and life-course variables that could be expected to influence family socioeconomic status (maternal education and employment, childbearing, and family economic self-sufficiency). Only four evaluations of programs actually reported or investigated long-term effects on antisocial behavior and/or delinquency. Tables 2-4 briefly describe each of the 40 programs and its effects on the broad categories of outcomes.

In general, the review of these 40 programs leads to two main conclusions, both of which are consistent with the research findings about risk factors: (1) the programs that demonstrated long-term effects on crime and antisocial behavior tended to be those that combined early childhood education and family support services, in other words, the programs that addressed multiple risk factors; and (2) among the more specialized programs, those designed primarily to serve adults tend to benefit adults more than children, and those designed primarily to serve children tend to benefit children more than adults. Barnett and St. Pierre and colleagues draw similar conclusions in their articles in this journal issue.

The next sections describe the four combination early education/family support programs and their long-term effects on antisocial behavior and delinquency.

Long-Term Effects on Antisocial Behavior and/or Delinquency

Four evaluations, all focusing on programs that combined early childhood education with family support services, assessed long-term (more than five years postprogram) effects on parent or teacher ratings of antisocial behavior and/or actual delinquency records. These programs offered both home visits and center-based educational child care or preschool. All four demonstrated positive effects.58-61

High/Scope Perry Preschool Project

In the Perry Preschool Project,60 conducted from 1962 through 1967, some 123 three- and four-year-old African-American children in Ypsilanti, Michigan, were randomly assigned to a program or to a control group. The intervention consisted of two and one-half hours of preschool experience five days a week for seven and one-half months each year for two years (except for one small group of children who received only one year of services). In addition, teachers visited each mother and child at home for 90 minutes once per week during the school year.

The project decreased rates of self-reported delinquency at age 14, official chronic delinquency at age 19, and, in the most recent follow-up at age 27, adult criminality.60,64,65 Generally, results indicated that the program participants committed fewer delinquent or criminal acts, the acts they committed were less severe, and they were less likely to be chronic offenders than were control group members: "As compared with the no-program group, the program group averaged a significantly . . . lower number of lifetime (juvenile and adult) criminal arrests (2.3 vs. 4.6 arrests) and a significantly lower number of adult criminal arrests (1.8 vs. 4.0 arrests). According to police and court records collected when study participants were 27-32 years old, significantly fewer program-group members than no-program-group members were frequent offenders—arrested 5 or more times in their lifetimes (7% vs. 35%) or as adults (7% vs. 31%). As compared with the no-program group, the program group had noticeably fewer arrests for adult felonies, significantly fewer arrests for adult misdemeanors, and noticeably fewer juvenile arrests. As compared with the no-program group, the program group had significantly fewer arrests for drug-making or drug-dealing crimes (7% vs. 25%). . . ."66

Syracuse University Family Development Research Program

The Syracuse University Family Development Research Program59 provided educational, nutrition, health and safety, and human service resources to 108 low-income, primarily African-American families, beginning prenatally and continuing until children reached elementary school age. Families received weekly home visits and quality child care (one-half day five days a week for children 6 to 15 months of age, and full-day care five days a week for children 15 to 60 months of age).

Results for the Syracuse program were similar to those obtained by the Perry project: the program decreased the total number, severity, and chronicity of later involvement with the juvenile justice system among participants. At follow-up, when children were 13 to 16 years old, four program group children (of 65 who were identified at follow-up; the original program group included 108) had probation records. Three were status offenders who had been deemed ungovernable, and the fourth was a one-time juvenile delinquent. In contrast, 12 control group youths (of 54 found at follow-up; the original control group included 74) had probation records. Five of the 12 control group youths were chronic offenders. Among the offenses committed by the 12 were robbery, burglary, sexual assault, and physical assault.

Yale Child Welfare Project

Between 1968 and 1970, 17 pregnant, low-income, primarily African-American women were recruited to participate in the Yale Child Welfare Project,61 an intensive program that began during pregnancy and continued until the children reached 30 months of age. Each family received free pediatric care, social work, child care (an average of 13.2 months), and psychological services as needed. Each family interacted with a four-person team: a pediatrician, a home visitor, a primary child care worker, and a developmental examiner. The team members remained constant over the course of the family's enrollment in the project.

The Yale project decreased boys' antisocial behavior as rated by teachers and increased the number of children with good school adjustment for both boys and girls 10 years after program services ended.67 Teachers rated boys who had been in the program group as being socially well adjusted. Most of the comparison group boys were described as disobedient or not getting along well with other children, and slightly more than half were also described as having problems with lying or cheating.

Houston Parent Child Development Center

The Houston Parent Child Development Center (PCDC)58 was designed to promote social and intellectual competence in children from low-income Mexican-American families. It required approximately 550 hours of participation over a two-year period. Mothers received 25 home visits for one year, beginning when their children were one year of age. Weekend sessions involving the whole family focused on issues such as decision making in the home or family community. During the second year of the program, mothers attended classes to learn about child development, home management, and other family-related topics. Their children attended educational preschool four half days per week.

Results indicated that the Houston PCDC decreased children's antisocial behavior as rated by parents in a one- to four-year follow-up and as rated by teachers in a five- to eight-year follow-up. In the five- to eight-year follow-up, for example, teachers rated control group children as more obstinate, impulsive, disruptive, and involved in fights than program group children. Program group children were rated as more considerate and less hostile. A more recent follow-up did not find significant effects on antisocial behavior,68 but attrition rates were quite high.

Magnitude of Effects

In the research literature, a shorthand method of assessing the magnitude of the effects of human service programs involves calculating what is called an effect size. This translates results of different studies into a common metric (the standard deviation), which then permits comparisons among studies of the strength of the relationship between an intervention and an outcome. In the studies reviewed in this article, the effect size measures the strength of the relationship between participation in a program and antisocial behavior or delinquency.

Generally, in the social sciences, an effect size of 0.2 standard deviation is defined as small, 0.5 as moderate, and 0.8 or greater as large.69 Measured by these yardsticks, the four programs described had moderate to large effects on antisocial behavior and delinquency: 0.48 standard deviations for the Houston PCDC, 0.48 for the Syracuse program, 0.42 for the Perry Preschool Project, and 1.13 for the Yale program.

Suggestions about Causation

Posttest and short-term follow-up evaluations of the four programs provide some clues as to what led to these differences in later antisocial or delinquent behavior. Positive effects on cognitive and/or verbal ability58,59,61,64 and parenting70,71 preceded long-term effects on delinquency and antisocial behavior. This observation is consistent with the view that long-term effects on delinquency occurred through prior effects on early risk factors such as cognitive ability and parenting ability.

In addition, it is important to note that three of these four programs (Yale, Houston, and Perry) assessed effects in two separate domains of risk and found some positive effects in both domains (the cognitive effects were mixed for the Yale and Houston programs). These findings bolster the notion that risk factors for delinquency can have a cumulative effect such that children who are buffered from multiple risks are less likely to engage in later delinquency than children buffered from just one risk.

These four studies are relatively atypical in the literature. As mentioned above, most of the 40 studies included in this literature review did not investigate program effects on long-term delinquent or antisocial behavior. Instead, most focused on effects on outcomes found to be risk factors for long-term delinquent or antisocial behavior (as reviewed earlier in this article).

Effects on Risk Factors for Delinquency

The results of the 40 studies are summarized in Tables 2-4. Although only the four studies previously reviewed investigated program effects on long-term delinquent or antisocial behavior, many of the 40 investigated effects on outcomes that roughly reflect the risk categories of early cognitive ability, parenting behavior, maternal life course, and short-term antisocial behavior. Table 5 collapses the information contained in Tables 2-4 to summarize the results of these studies by program type (that is, by early education, family support, and combination early education and family support programs).

The data in Table 5 illustrate the following points:

1. In contrast to the programs that combined early education and family support elements, relatively few of the single-focus early childhood education or family support programs actually assessed effects on antisocial behavior. Only 3 of 8 early education programs and 4 of 23 family support programs assessed the effects of the programs on antisocial behavior.

2. Instead, most early education programs assessed effects on children's early cognitive ability, and most family support programs assessed effects on parenting or maternal life course.

3. All 8 of the early education programs reviewed measured program effects on variables such as IQ, school achievement, or children's language development. Most were effective in promoting children's early cognitive ability. Early education programs appeared to demonstrate positive results more consistently in the early cognitive ability domain than in parenting, maternal life course, or antisocial/delinquent behavior domains.

4. Family support programs measured outcomes for both children and parents but were most effective in affecting parental outcomes such as parenting behaviors or maternal life course, rather than outcomes associated with the children.

5. Only combination early education/ family support programs affected a broad range of outcomes for both children and parents. All of the 11 combination programs identified benefits for children's cognitive ability (8 consistently, 3 only at certain follow-up points). Six of 8 combination programs which sought to measure parenting benefits found positive effects, and all 4 of those which sought to measure maternal life course outcomes found benefits.

6. It is primarily combination programs that produced long-term declines in antisocial behavior and delinquency.

In sum, the literature review indicates that the most effective programs with respect to preventing antisocial behavior and delinquency were also the programs which combined early education and family support services and had the broadest range of positive effects on children and their parents.