An effort to improve early-childhood services for needy children in Pennsylvania's Allegheny County has succeeded in opening several new, high-quality programs. But the initiative, which was financed by foundations and private donors, has not met its original goals, and costs have climbed far higher than planned, a recent study by the RAND Corp. found.
The Santa Monica, Calif., research organization was asked by the Heinz Endowments in Pittsburgh to examine whether the initiative was living up to its vision of reaching 7,600 children in 80 neighborhoods, over five years, at an average cost of $4,000 to $5,000 per child.
The researchers found that the initiative's business plan assumed that 71 percent of the children would attend low-cost, part-day programs offered by existing child-care and preschool providers. Instead, almost all the children were served in full-day programs, often in new centers. Costs per child in 1999 were more than $13,600 per child.
Administrative costs for the initiative were also more than four times as much as originally planned for the 680 children enrolled during the time covered by the study.
Future efforts, the RAND report concludes, should have "less cumbersome administrative structures" and might benefit by starting as smaller, pilot projects.
The researchers note, however, the positive effects of the initiative, including helping 20 local Head Start programs obtain licenses to run full-day programs.
Navigating the System
Getting and keeping child-care help may be interfering with low-income parents' efforts to work and move off of welfare, according to two recent reports from the Urban Institute, a research center in Washington.
Through interviews and focus groups in 12 states, the researchers found that parents often have to clear numerous hurdles to receive and keep child-care subsidies. Some agencies require parents to fill out several documents and come into the office repeatedly—a burden that "is in conflict with the larger goal of helping low- income parents become established in the workforce," said Gina Adams, one of the authors.
Some relief could be forthcoming as part of President Bush's welfare-reauthorization plan, which proposes an administrative "superwaiver" to help states streamline applications for child care and other benefits.
—Linda Jacobson firstname.lastname@example.org
Vol. 21, Issue 40, Page 10