Fifth National Summit on Quality in Home Visiting Programs

By Emily Carroll

Recently, members of the ICS team including Joe Waters, Caitlin Mauk, Emily Carroll, and (Board Member) Liz Winer, attended the Fifth National Summit on Quality in Home Visiting Programs. The Summit is the final conference in The Pew Charitable Trust’s conference series on home visiting (HV) as they are bringing their Home Visiting Campaign to a close. The conference hosted researchers from all over the world at the Marriott Marquis in Washington D.C.

Photo courteousy of Valentina Powers, used under Creative Commons license:

Photo courteousy of Valentina Powers, used under Creative Commons license:

Home visiting is a voluntary support program for new and expectant families. The participants in the programs receive advice, guidance, and other help from health, social service, and child development professionals. Through regular, planned home visits, parents learn how to improve their family’s health and provide better opportunities for their children. There are a number of home visiting program models including Nurse-Family Partnership, Parents as Teachers, and Healthy Families America to name just a few of the national models.

Several key takeaways from the conference that include:

  • Dosage and duration – What is really needed in HV programs? How long and how much are questions that must be addressed for families and within the larger HV community.
  • The importance of evidence and data collection. Researchers rallied for a “unified, sharpened federal data management system” as a way to provide clear messaging on the benefits of HV.
  • There are many HV models targeting different populations with different needs. There is a need for a universal intake assessment that would place children and families in the program that best fits their needs from the start.
  • Cultural sensitivity in HV programs is important. Each model strives for enough flexibility to accommodate all families regardless of cultural background.
  • Interventions across the life cycle are important — They shouldn’t stop after 2 or 3 years as illustrated by the two-generational or multi-generational research.
  • As we continue to research and do policy work (on home visiting and other issues), we need to keep in mind the importance of rigorously evaluating program effectiveness, better understanding how programs will positively affect individuals over time, and how home visiting fits within the broader early childhood system.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway was on the importance of language. Home visiting’s biggest PR problem is with its name. Of those who are familiar with HV programs, no one – including parents, participants, the public, or policy makers – likes the name. Pew conducted surveys and focus groups to determine what would be more effective and less pejorative. The consensus is “Family Support” or “Parent Support” provides a less judgmental, more positive association with the program. Some states have begun to move toward this new language but it will require the commitment of the larger HV community.

During the last day of the conference there was a palpable sadness in the room due to Pew’s imminent exit from the HV policy space. However, we feel that there has been incredible growth and development in the field as a result of Pew’s contributions, as well as, ample talent and leadership within HV to be able to continue successfully promoting programs and the positive outcomes associated with the intervention.

For more information on home visiting programs see:

By Megan Carolan

Adverse childhood experiences (ACES) can have serious long-term consequences for kids. That’s the message in a recent brief from ICS Senior Fellow Janice Gruendel, one of a series highlighting the importance of executive function and early brain development. The first five years of a child’s life are ones of tremendous brain growth, when children learn to walk, talk, sing, and ask ever more “Why?” questions as they explore their environments. However, the same plasticity that allows for this incredible growth in knowledge also means that negative experiences can shape the brain for the long haul. ACES can vary from abuse and neglect of all forms to violence in the home, parental divorce, and parental substance abuse, among others.

All families and children will experience adversity at some point; there’s even research from the Harvard Center for the Developing Child that shows positive stress can be a good thing. But as Dr. Gruendel notes, frequent ACES have negative consequences: “[A]s just one example, on average 30% of all children under age three who experience three or more ACEs are likely to experience developmental delays. As exposure increases, the risk of developmental delays in the first years of life increases dramatically.”

So what do these ACES – experience that happen in the home – have to do with early childhood education systems? Everything. Dr. Gruendel explains:

“All families will need some level of access to a predictable set of services and supports as they raise their young children. These will surely include services that provide for basic needs, the delivery of preventative health care, early child care and early learning, and age-appropriate screenings….Families with young children who live in circumstances of adversity, trauma, or toxic stress will need greater access to a larger array of programs.”

Many early childhood programs currently take ACES into account as a risk factor for program eligibility. While research has shown all children can benefit from quality pre-K, programs with limited resources often choose to target their available slots to the children who are most “at-risk” of not being ready for school and thus most likely to benefit from an intervention. A recent paper I co-wrote with Lori Connors-Tadros for the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO) explores the common risk factors used in state-funded pre-K programs, one of the largest sources of preschool for American children. For example, the table below looks at which factors besides income level as most frequently used in determining eligibility for state-funded pre-K programs.

Common risk factors used to determine eligibility in state-funded pre-K

Common risk factors used to determine eligibility in state-funded pre-K

The paper goes beyond what programs are currently doing to explore just how strong the research literature is on each of the most common risk factors for eligibility. It also provides recommendations for what programs should keep in mind in developing eligibility criteria for programs. Of course, enrolling children who have experienced ACES in a preschool program is not enough – policymakers must ensure the particular needs of these children are addressed and work to lessen the prevalence of ACS for our most vulnerable residents.

By Megan Carolan

The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) recently released its annual State of Preschool report. The “Yearbook” as it’s called is derived from an annual survey of state-funded pre-K programs on topics including access, resources, and quality standards. The report itself covers not only national trends, but provides state-level analysis and rankings to help policymakers and parents gauge the progress of early childhood education.

The national level findings reflect a field in flux as the profile of early childhood increases while states still struggle to recover from the recession.

  • Total state funding for pre-K programs increased by more than $116 million across the 40 states plus D.C. that offered pre-K for the full 2013-2014 year, a 1 percent increase in real dollars.
  • State pre-K funding per child increased by $61 (inflation-adjusted) from the previous year to $4,125.
  • In January 2014, Mississippi became the first state in four years not yet funding pre-K statewide to create a new program. It spent $3 million to enroll 1,774 children, and met all 10 of NIEER’s quality standards benchmarks. While not included in the rankings because the program did not
  • Enrollment increased by 8,535 children. Four percent of 3-year-olds and 29 percent of 4-year-olds were served in state-funded pre-K, representing a slight increase in percent of 4-year-olds served.
  • An unprecedented seven programs improved their quality standards and gained against NIEER’s Quality Standards Benchmarks checklist.
  • More than half a million children, or 40 percent of nationwide enrollment, were served in programs that met fewer than half of the quality standards benchmarks.

While the national picture may indicate slow recovery, geographic differences can be devastating to the opportunities for preschoolers. As the map shows below, 10 state did not offer services for the full 2013-2014 year, though several of these states have since begun investing in new programs. The South has traditionally been a strong region for providing early childhood education, a position that will be strengthened by Mississippi’s new investment which began midway through the 2013-2014 school year. However, not all states are the same:

State of Preschool 2014 map

Clearly, there are large differences in enrollment levels throughout the region. ICS’ home state, South Carolina, ranks 11th for serving 4-year-olds, serving 39 percent of that population; it also enrolls 11 percent of 3-year-olds, also ranking 11th nationwide. However, access only begins to tell the story. The Palmetto State ranks last of all state’s providing pre-K for its spending per-child, with reported amounts of only $1,817 from state sources for each child enrolled across 4K and the Child Development Education Pilot Program (CDEPP) programs. While CDEPP met 7 of NIEER’s 10 quality standards benchmarks, 4K, which serves more than twice as many children, meets just 5. We’ve written previously about the need to invest more in 4K to ensure that children served start life with their best foot forward. While the Yearbook focuses primarily on state-funded pre-K, it also offers information on Head Start and special education enrollment;

Before joining ICS earlier this year, I was the project manager on this report. It is an incredibly rich data source for understanding how states were investing in the most recent 2013-2014 school year, and in understanding how they have progressed since 2001. The Yearbook helps policymakers develop a roadmap for where we are and where we need to go to ensure that our nation’s youngest learners receive the opportunities they need. If you’re interested in learning more about a state’s progress, check out the state profiles; for more detailed information to compare state policies, Appendix A has the full data set collected in the survey.

Yesterday’s The State (Columbia, SC) newspaper carried an opinion editorial by ICS Vice President Joe Waters and Associate Director of Policy Research Megan Carolan highlighting the successes of South Carolina’s full-day 4K program and opportunities for improvement.

While the headline “Poor children lag desipte 4K” paints a depressing picture for South Carolina’s children, The State’s recent report on 4-year-old kindergarten shows the program has succeeded in several goals.

Low-income children who attended the state’s full-day 4K program as preschoolers consistently outperformed children in low-income districts who did not attend 4K on the state’s third- through sixth-grade exams for math and English language arts. The program also has expanded impressively to serve more at-risk 4-year-olds in recent years, which can have meaningful impacts on K-12 education in these districts: The more 5-year-olds who show up to kindergarten ready to learn, the better for everyone, as teachers can focus on building on that knowledge rather than trying to fill gaps in knowledge.

This report does raise several areas where 4K must improve in order to ensure all children start school on the right foot.

Continue reading the full editorial here:

The following is a press release from our friends at ReadyNation. We are pleased that ICS Board Member Dick Wilkerson, former CEO and Chairman of Michelin NA, is a signatory to the open letter sent today the United Nations.

NEW YORK – Quality early childhood programs create the foundation for workforce productivity and economic prosperity around the globe.

That’s the message that the business leader group ReadyNation is sending to the United Nations in a new open letter released today.

The letter, signed by 51 business leaders spanning four continents, stresses the connection between quality early childhood programs and a host of beneficial outcomes. It urges the United Nations to prioritize early childhood programs in its final Sustainable Development Goals Report, to be released at the General Assembly this September.

ReadyNation members spoke out in support of the letter’s message. Former Procter & Gamble CEO John Pepper reiterated the importance of the issue. “Early childhood development is the compelling economic, social and moral issue of our time,” Pepper explained. “It helps provide all children with the opportunity they deserve to develop their natural abilities. It is also the most effective way to build the workforce and customer base we need. Investing in young children’s healthy development is a financial and social imperative for any country.”

In the letter, ReadyNation cites extensive research showing that high-quality, evidence-based investments in early childhood programs increase the chances that children will succeed in school and in life. ReadyNation’s Director Dr. Sara Watson points out that, “Starting children on the path to adult success helps create a well-trained workforce, which is a key component of addressing international priorities ranging from economic development to energy to conflict resolution.”

ReadyNation’s letter to the United Nations is an unmistakable signal that investing in early childhood programs is a growing priority for business leaders around the world.”

Gideon Badagawa, the Executive Director of Private Sector Foundation Uganda and another ReadyNation member, remarked “A commitment to high-quality early childhood programs should be a global priority. Research shows that such programs can yield positive results across diverse cultures and nations. We need to act now to start our youngest learners on the path to success.