Authors: Jennifer K. Duer and Jade Jenkins
Since its creation in 1995, Early Head Start has provided comprehensive early intervention services to pregnant women and low-income families with infants and toddlers. Designed around developmental theories demonstrating the ability for early interventions to change later outcomes, Early Head Start (EHS) programs offer a wide range of early intervention services including home visits, child care, parenting education, and health care and referrals (Brooks-Gunn, 2004; Rutter, 2000). The Early Head Start Evaluation revealed benefits for EHS participants including higher cognitive and language development, higher emotional engagement with parents, and displayed fewer aggressive behaviors than non-participants (Love et al., 2005). Previous literature, however, has failed to examine how the roll out of EHS programs might spillover to impact cognitive or health outcomes for all young children in counties with EHS.
To gather empirical data to analyze these issues, an explanatory sequential mixed-methods research design will be used, combining quantitative and qualitative data. For Study 1, Head Start Program Information Reports (PIR) data will be used to identify county rollout and describe characteristics of grantees. Separate datasets will be used to measure the effects on the study’s four outcome variables: The Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) natality data collects birthweight data; The National Immunization Survey examines immunization rates of children aged 19-35 months; the Current Population Survey (CPS) measures preschool enrollment; and the Stanford Education Data Archive includes rich Math and English/Language Arts Achievement records. Similar outcome variables will be used for Study 2, but the analyses will instead compare grantees with and without the EHS-CCP grants. After completing the quantitative analyses, Study 3 will include semi-structured interviews with EHS directors and staff regarding expenditures and the results from the quantitative analyses to more fully understand how programs utilize additional program funding.
A more complete understanding of the effects of Early Head Start will provide critical information regarding the impact of a large, federal early intervention program by identifying the strengths and improvement areas for the program serving diverse families and children from under-resourced communities. Understanding what EHS changes, and for whom, has the potential to advise current EHS program practices and inform developmental theories of continuity and change for children at risk of negative future outcomes. This analysis will extend beyond the current research literature by informing current child and family policy at the national level and reveal how grantee-level funding decisions can be better executed with limited resources.