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U of M report says early-childhood intervention improves well-being through young adulthood

Study is the first to show school programs have enduring impact

University of Minnesota

Minority preschoolers from low-income families who participated in a comprehensive school-based intervention fared better educationally, socially and economically as they moved into young adulthood, according to a report by University of Minnesota professors Arthur Reynolds and Judy Temple. The study is published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association's (JAMA) Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. Reynolds is a child development professor in the College of Education and Human Development and Judy Temple is a professor in the department of applied economics and in the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

"This study is the first to show that large-scale established programs run by schools can have enduring effects into adulthood on general health and well-being," Reynolds says. "Early childhood programs can promote not only educational success but health status and behavior."

Reynolds' research group discovered that by age 24, children who were involved in preschool programs were more likely to finish high school, attend four-year colleges and have health insurance coverage, and less likely to be arrested for a felony, be incarcerated or develop depressive symptoms. For example, the preschool group had higher rates of high school completion with 71.4 percent finishing high school compared with a 63.7 percent finish rate among those in the non preschool group. Those who attended preschool also were more likely to have health insurance with 70.2 percent having insurance compared with 61.5 percent of those not in preschool. Those children in the program also had lower rates of felony arrests with 16.5 percent compared with 21.1 percent and lower depressive symptoms with 12.8 percent compared with 17.4 percent.

The study directed by Reynolds is called the Chicago Longitudinal Study and began in 1986 to investigate the effects of government-funded kindergarten programs for 1,539 children in the Chicago Public Schools. Reynolds' group studied the long-term effects of the Child-Parent Center in Chicago. A total of 1,539 low-income minority children who were born in 1979 or 1980 and attended programs at 25 sites between 1985 and 1986 were compared with 550 children who participated in alternative full-day kindergarten programs available to low-income families. The children were tracked through age 24 using various methods, including records from schools, Medicaid and county, state and federal agencies, as well as a survey completed by the participants between ages 22 and 24 years.

"Early childhood interventions have demonstrated consistent positive effects on children's health and well-being," according to background information in the JAMA article. The types of programs that have received the largest growth in public funding are preschool programs for mostly at-risk 3- and 4-year-olds that provide both educational and family services in a center-based environment. One such intervention, the Child-Parent Center program in Chicago, is available from preschool through third grade and features instruction by qualified teachers, low child-to-staff ratios, health and nutrition services and an intensive parent program that includes classroom involvement, field trips and home visits.

Children who participated in the program during preschool and early school years also were more likely to be working full-time (42.7 percent vs. 36.4 percent), have completed more years of education and have lower rates of arrests for violent offenses (13.9 percent vs. 17.9 percent), and were less likely to receive disability assistance (4.4 percent vs. 7 percent).

The fact that positive results of the program extend beyond educational achievements is not surprising given the links between education, mental and physical health and behavior, Reynolds and Temple said in the study. "Because expenditures for the medical care and justice systems comprise roughly 20 percent of the gross domestic product, the potential cost savings to governments and taxpayers of early childhood prevention programs are considerable."

"Children who participated in this program had a greater recognition that more and higher quality schooling is the way out of poverty," Reynolds said.

"Children who were enrolled in the CPC program were generally more socially engaged and educationally adept," Reynolds said. "These benefits derived from the early impacts of the program on school readiness, achievement, and parental involvement in the children's schooling."

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The study was supported by grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, as well as by the Foundation for Child Development, the National Institute for Early Education Research, the McCormick Tribune Foundation and the University of Wisconsin, Madison Graduate School. To learn more about the Chicago Logitudinal Study, see http://www.education.umn.edu/icd/CLS/

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