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Child Care: In spite of the challenges involved in implementing a new initiative, Early Head Start has gotten off to a strong start itself, according to the first-ever evaluation of the program.

A study focusing on the first year of the program, which started in 1995, found that it was successfully serving infants and toddlers from poor families.

Those working in the program had a high commitment to providing child-development services, and organizers put a strong emphasis on hiring well-educated people and providing ongoing training, says the report prepared by Mathematica Policy Research Inc. in Princeton, N.J.

The researchers examined 17 sites around the country that are implementing Early Head Start, a federal program designed to serve poor children from birth through age 3 and their families.

The sites included a mix of Head Start agencies, school districts, and other community-based organizations. Some serve children on site only, while others conduct home visits, and still others do both.

While some of the agencies had a history of providing family-support services, the researchers found that they were "making considerable progress in strengthening child-development services, with help from training and technical-assistance providers."

The report also notes that the programs were trying to involve fathers in the lives of their children, and that they were working well with other agencies to meet families' needs.

A survey of the staff members found that 80 percent were satisfied with their current positions. More than 60 percent, though, said they were unhappy with their pay, and 41 percent complained about paperwork.

The report highlights other challenges that the programs had encountered, such as paying adequate wages and holding down turnover. Some had trouble enrolling and keeping families in the program. Many had difficulty finding good child care for the children, especially with mothers' work requirements increasing under the 1996 welfare law.

Some agencies that had previously offered only Head Start—the federal preschool program for 3- and 4-year-olds—had difficulty shifting their focus to infants and toddlers, the report says, and Early Head Start was sometimes "perceived as competing for resources."

But overall, the authors conclude, the 17 sites have "made substantial progress toward implementing the Early Head Start model as envisioned by program planners."

—Linda Jacobson

Vol. 19, Issue 31, Page 14

Published in Print: April 12, 2000, as Children & Families

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