|Children Who Complete Intensive Early Childhood
Program Show Gains in Adulthood: Greater College Attendance,
Lower Crime and Depression
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 — even
for children who completed only part of the program. By age 24,
for example, children who participated only in the preschool program
had lower rates of depression, lower rates of violent crime and
incarceration, were more likely to attend 4 year colleges and were
more likely to have health insurance than children who did not
participate in the preschool program. However, graduates of both
the preschool and school age components of the CPC program were
more likely to attend college and to be employed full time, and
less likely to receive public assistance or to have a disability
than those who participated in other programs. Children who participated
in only the school age component of the CPC program also showed
benefits in adult life. By age 24, these children had lower rates
of disability and were less likely to receive public assistance.
“Children who were enrolled in the CPC program were generally
more socially engaged and educationally adept,” said Dr. Reynolds. “These
benefits appear to be derived from early gains made in the CPC
program on school readiness, achievement, and parental involvement
in the children’s schooling.”
Established in 1967, the CPC program is currently federally funded
through Title I of the No Child Left Behind Act and is still operating
in Chicago. The program is implemented by certified teachers, has
a low child-to-teacher ratio, and provides intensive parent involvement.
Its curriculum includes structured field trips and class activities
that emphasize oral and written communication, said Dr. Reynolds.
The program also fosters early literacy through conventional classroom
activities, in addition to story book reading and language games
that help children recognize letters and understand the sounds
for which they stand.
In addition to parenting classes, the CPC program offers high
school equivalency classes, career development skills workshops,
and other professional training.
“The program is an outreach to the parents as well,” said Dr.
Reynolds. “In order to lift families out of poverty, attention
is directed to the whole family.”
He noted that past research has shown that completing more schooling
is linked with earning a higher income, a decreased involvement
in criminal activity and even a decrease in rates of depression.
“Children who participated in this program had a greater recognition
that more schooling is the way out of poverty,” he said. “The study
is the first to show that large-scale established programs run
by schools can have enduring effects into adulthood across a range
The NICHD sponsors research on development, before and after birth;
maternal, child, and family health; reproductive biology and population
issues; and medical rehabilitation. For more information, visit
the Institute’s Web site at http://www.nichd.nih.gov/.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's
Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and
Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting
and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research,
and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both
common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and
its programs, visit www.nih.gov.