Early Years

February 19, 2003 2 min read

Family Support

In addition to giving young children social skills and early academic knowledge, preschool programs that also provide services for parents can lower rates of child abuse and neglect, a new study suggests.

More information on the Chicago Longitudinal Study is available from the Waisman Center at the Universty of Wisconsin, Madison.

Since 1985, Arthur Reynolds, a professor of social work and human development at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has been studying the effects of the Chicago school district’s Child-Parent Centers program on the children who have participated in it.

His earlier research—called the Chicago Longitudinal Study—found that the program contributes to lower delinquency rates, less need for special education and retention in grade, and higher achievement.

But by examining substantiated reports of child abuse and neglect from juvenile-court records and referrals to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, Mr. Reynolds has also found that the program can affect the behavior of parents living in poverty.

The study, which appears in the January/February issue of the journal Child Development, shows that children who attended the centers had a 52 percent lower rate of maltreatment by age 17 than those who did not take part in the program, but did attend full-day kindergarten.

Mr. Reynolds and Dylan Robertson, a graduate student at the same university, also looked at the impact of ongoing participation in the program, which continues through the 3rd grade. They found that those children who were enrolled for more than four years experienced a 48 percent lower rate of maltreatment than those who had participated between one and four years. The researchers also found that the biggest difference in abuse rates between those who participated and those who did not occurred when the children were between 10 and 17 years old.

“This finding suggests that the benefits of early intervention don’t fade over time, that the principles taught during the program can lead to enduring effects,” Mr. Reynolds said in a news release.

The Child-Parent Centers, which first opened in 1967, help 3- to 9-year-olds build basic skills in language arts and mathematics. In addition, resource coordinators help the children’s parents obtain the services they need to better care for their families, including continuing their own educations. The centers are financed with federal Title I money.

—Linda Jacobson