Children & Families

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Quality Improvements

Smart Start, North Carolina's 10-year-old effort to improve services for young children, has led to an increase in child-care quality across the state, according to a study from the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

When early-childhood programs take part in training and other activities financed by Smart Start, the quality of their classroom offerings improves. And children who attend such centers do better on tests that measure skills and abilities than those children attending lower-quality programs, according to the report, which is drawn from a series of studies conducted between 1994 and 1999.

Looking at 512 children in 110 child-care centers, the researchers assessed children's language, early-literacy, math, and social- emotional skills—all of which are considered important for later success in kindergarten.

"Clearly, the Smart Start partnerships are making a difference in the future of our state by improving the school readiness of North Carolina's children," said Peggy Ball, the director of the state's division of child development, the agency funding the research.

The study also notes that a significant proportion of the state's child-care programs continues to be of low quality.

Children's Well-Being

Requiring low-income mothers to work does not negatively affect their preschool-age children, the latest study of the impacts of the 1996 overhaul of the federal welfare law concludes.

"For preschoolers, neither mothers' employment transitions nor their welfare transitions appear to be problematic or beneficial for cognitive achievement or behavior problems," according to the study, which appears in the March 7 issue of the journal Science. "Family income increased and mothers' time with children decreased, so these two effects may have offset each other."

P. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale, a psychology professor at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., led the study, which included a random sample of 2,402 poor children in Boston, Chicago, and San Antonio and was based on time diaries kept by mothers. The study also found that when mothers on welfare go to work, their adolescent children's mental health improves.

For children ages 10 to 14, the most common effect of their mothers' employment was a decrease in anxiety. And there was "modest evidence" that when their mothers left welfare, those children's cognitive achievement increased and drug and alcohol use declined.

—Linda Jacobson

Vol. 22, Issue 27, Page 6

Published in Print: March 19, 2003, as Children & Families

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