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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

Characteristics of Effective Programs

The four programs (Yale, Houston PCDC, Syracuse, and Perry) that demonstrated long-term effects on delinquent or antisocial behavior shared some common features that may help explain their success.

Scope and Intensity

The programs provided quality educational child care and/or preschool as well as support to adults in peer group and family settings. They assessed and achieved long-term results affecting both children and parents.

Each of the individual components was also intensive. Visits were made to the homes of the families weekly to monthly, depending on the program, and ranged from a total of 25 to 60. By comparison, only 12 of the 23 family-support-only programs offered 25 or more home visits. The early childhood educational component ranged from half-day summer sessions to full-day sessions, usually four or five days a week.

The combination of early educational and family support models of intervention may have been crucial to obtaining effects on multiple risks for chronic delinquency. Although an adequate test of the effects of early-education-only programs on both parenting and child cognitive ability has yet to be carried out, Table 5 suggests that family-support-only programs appear to be less likely than combination programs to affect risks in both cognitive and parenting domains.

Of course, it is possible that multiple components are not necessary for long-term effects on chronic delinquency and that some of the single-component programs reviewed have had or will have long-term effects on children and families (none has yet carried out a long-term follow-up). There is evidence, however, from the evaluation of a two-component intervention to reduce antisocial behavior in middle childhood that both child- and parent-focused components were necessary for clinically significant effects.72

Quality

The four programs with long-term effects on antisocial behavior and/or delinquency were quality programs. They had strong theoretical bases for their center-based and home visiting curricula; most curricula emphasized the initiation and planning of activities by the child rather than the teacher (Houston, Syracuse, and Perry programs); home visitor-to-family ratios were generally 1 to 10 or better for full-time home visitors; staff-child ratios in infant/toddler educational child care were in the range of one adult to three or four children, and 1 to 6 in preschool programs; preservice and in-service training was extensive; and supervision was ongoing. (See the article by Frede in this journal issue for further discussion of quality and curricula.)

Population Served

Although none of the four programs had the prevention of antisocial behavior and crime as their stated purpose, the areas that, in fact, have highest crime rates—urban low-income communities73—were targeted in all four programs with long-term effects. These areas and participants were not selected based on risk for delinquency, but rather on the more general principle that disadvantaged families have fewer resources to spend on quality early childhood care and education than do middle- or upper-class families.74,75

Duration and Timing

In general, duration did not appear to be related to the likelihood or magnitude of long-term effects on antisocial behavior and delinquency: none of the programs with long-term effects was shorter than two years, but length of intervention ranged from two to five years. With respect to timing, the four programs were all implemented during the child's first five years. Two of the programs began at or before birth,59,61 one began at age one,58 and the other at age three.60 Most family support interventions reviewed here have been implemented during the prenatal or early infancy periods. This is a time of heightened stress for parents, when they may be particularly open to outside support.75 Single or adolescent parents, parents of low birth weight infants, and parents with already low levels of social support may benefit particularly from support during the perinatal period.48,55 Beginning a program before birth would increase utilization of prenatal care in this high-risk population, which may help reduce the incidence of perinatal risk factors for chronic delinquency.

This does not mean that a parent-focused intervention begun later in childhood could not also decrease children's early antisocial behavior.76 However, it may be that the magnitude of the benefits may be enhanced with earlier services.

While family support may be particularly important during the first few years of life, results of the early education studies reviewed here and in the article by Barnett in this journal issue are mixed as to when is the best time to deliver early education services.