RAND Notes Fiscal Benefits of Early-Childhood Programs

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Policymakers looking to justify spending for early-childhood programs have a new report to back them up.

"Investing in Our Children," a report released last week by the Santa Monica, Calif.-based RAND Corp., supports the position that certain early interventions can benefit disadvantaged children and that public spending on such services can save money in other government programs, such as welfare and criminal justice.

But the authors of the report caution against using those conclusions to make general statements about all programs serving young children.

Replication Questioned

Most of the promising approaches reviewed in the study are small-scale, tightly controlled demonstration projects. And researchers question whether such programs, usually managed by child-development experts, can be replicated by public agencies.

"Programs administered by government on a large scale would have to deal with issues that the model programs did not face, such as how to ensure consistency across many program sites and how to screen large numbers of children," the report says.

The report cites a number of widely known examples of effective programs, including:

  • The High/Scope Perry Preschool Project in Ypsilanti, Mich., which served 123 low-income black children. When compared with those who didn't receive the services, long-term studies of the individuals in the program have found higher achievement, lower rates of welfare dependency, and fewer incidents of criminal activity.
  • The Prenatal/Early Infancy Project, in Elmira, N.Y., in which 400 first-time mothers--most of whom were poor, unmarried, and younger than 19--received frequent home visits by nurses trained in parent education. Researchers found benefits for both the mothers and the children.
  • The Carolina Abecedarian project, which provided high-quality child care and home visits to 109 high-risk families. Children also received medical services at the center. At the end of the program, IQ scores were higher for children in the treatment group than for those in a control group.

Such early-childhood programs, the report says, can result in savings on welfare, criminal justice, special education, emergency-room visits, and homeless shelters.

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