Enhanced Early Head Start: Good for Kids, Good for Parents

May 29, 2012

By Emily Firgens

Unemployment takes a toll on an entire family. Both parents and children are impacted by the lack of income, stress, and uncertainty that comes with it. Research time and again shows that young children who grow up in low-income households are at greater risk of experiencing poor developmental outcomes than more affluent children. Coupling comprehensive early childhood services for children with training and employment services for parents is one way to address the needs of both children and parents to improve child development and parental employment.  

Select Early Head Start (EHS) programs in Kansas and Missouri piloted Enhanced Early Head Start programs, which provide the traditional child and family development services of an EHS program, while also including formal enhancements that focus on helping low-income parents achieve employment or educational goals and improve their families' economic security. MDRC recently evaluated the Enhanced EHS program as part of a larger study that looks at strategies for helping those who face serious barriers to finding and holding steady jobs. The study found that Enhanced EHS programs had a positive impact on parental employment and earnings for families who entered the study with infants and pregnant women. Additionally, children whose families participated in Enhanced EHS, when compared to nonparticipating families, were more likely to receive higher-quality child care in formal child care settings and less likely to use home-based care from non-relatives.

While the Enhanced EHS program resulted in few outcomes for the entire sample, the findings do point to the value of Enhanced EHS services and of beginning such interventions early on, targeting parents of infants and families expecting children.

Evaluation of EHS has been shown to provide benefits to children, helping increase children's cognitive, language and social-emotional development. MDRC's recent study demonstrates again the value of EHS for parents too. Parents who participate in EHS programs are more likely to be employed or participating in job training and education. Similarly, particularly strong impacts have been found for families who enroll in EHS during pregnancy. This latest research adds to a larger body of EHS research, underscoring the importance of early childhood programs beginning prenatally and serving the whole family.  

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