Journal Issue: Long-Term Outcomes Of Early Childhood Programs Volume 5 Number 3 Winter 1995
Single-focus programs attempt to intervene with children directly, with children indirectly via their parents, or directly with the parents.
Many single-focus programs attempt to address the problems of poverty by intervening in the lives of poor preschool children to improve their cognitive and social competence and prepare them to enter school on equal terms with more fortunate children. This approach is typified by Head Start, the major federal early childhood program for preschoolers, and other similar preschool programs. Such programs are typically part-day, part-year programs that deliver high-quality, intensive early childhood services to three- to five-year-olds. In some programs, these services include health and social welfare services as well as traditional cognitive and social services for children.
As summarized in other articles in this journal issue, these sorts of programs can help prepare children for school and can confer longer-term benefits which can be detected in the public schools and beyond. However, their effectiveness varies with their intensity and comprehensiveness. (See the article by Barnett in this journal issue.)
Other single-focus programs seek to affect children indirectly, by helping parents learn to care for their children in ways that will promote the children's development. Proponents of this approach believe that parents are their children's first and best teachers and that parents must be first-rate teachers so that their children can succeed. This approach underlies programs such as Head Start's Parent-Child Development Centers7 or home visiting programs such as Missouri's Parents as Teachers (PAT)8 or Arkansas's Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY).9
Some researchers argue that parenting programs alone are not sufficient to improve children's outcomes, both because (1) at least some important aspects of child development occur on their own timetable, and children therefore cannot wait for the benefits of parenting programs to trickle down to them from the parents, and also because (2) parenting programs alone do not provide interventions that are broad enough to address the range of issues which parents face and which can affect child development.10-13
A third program strategy focuses primarily on adults and, in particular, on adult single parents. Welfare (that is, Aid to Families with Dependent Children [AFDC]), welfare-to-work (for example, the Job Training Partnership Act, the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills program, California's Greater Avenues for Independence program), and adult education all have the dual aim of moving women off welfare into work and increasing their economic well-being.
A recent review of the impact of welfare-to-work programs14 concluded that, while almost all of these programs led to small gains in earnings, many participants remained in poverty and continued to receive welfare. Even mothers who obtained jobs through such programs frequently left or lost them because of a lack of transportation or child care, or because their jobs did not provide health benefits for their children.
In a related area, most reviews conclude that adults' literacy skills and job opportunities have not been greatly increased by adult basic education programs, which are equivalent to instruction provided in grades 1-8; by adult secondary education programs, which are equivalent to instruction provided in grades 9-12; or by English as a second language programs for individuals whose native language is other than English.15,16 Such programs have high dropout rates (more than 50% participate for fewer than 17 weeks) and low intensity levels (the average participant receives about 80 hours of instruction), making it difficult to achieve positive effects.16,17 Though many of these programs do lead to increased rates of attaining a General Education Development (GED) certificate, having a GED does not relate positively to enhanced skill levels and is not the economic equivalent of a high school diploma.18
Little is known about child outcomes in families targeted by welfare-to-work programs, and some researchers10 question the premise that adult education programs necessarily benefit children, arguing that no studies have demonstrated that increasing parental job competence and self-esteem are sufficient to enhance short- or long-term outcomes for children.Two-Generation Programs
As indicated above, based on both research evidence and theory, many researchers believe that single-focus approaches have not proved completely successful individually, or even when taken in combinations of two. Early childhood education may improve children's cognitive development, but perhaps not as much as when parents also strengthen their parenting skills. Parenting programs may improve parenting skills, but children's development often does not improve in a commensurate amount. Neither type of program addresses outcomes such as parental employment, and parent job training programs probably do not lead to large changes in child development or parenting skills.
In response, two-generation programs were designed to recognize the multigenerational, multidimensional aspects of family poverty and to attack problems associated with poverty from multiple directions.19 Such programs have probably proliferated because research has indicated the limitations of single-focus approaches, rather than because research has demonstrated the benefits of two-generation programs. Nevertheless, hundreds of two-generation projects now exist across the nation, serving thousands of families, and funded by millions of public and private dollars.20
Designers of two-generation programs hope to produce effects for adults and children as shown in Figure 1. Under the umbrella of a single integrated program, the two-generation approach seeks to solve the problems of parents and children in two contiguous generations by offering services such as early childhood education and parenting education to help young children get the best possible start in life and, at the same time, by offering services such as job training, literacy training, and vocational education to help their parents become economically self-sufficient.
The following hypotheses underlie two-generation programs:
- Early childhood education will have a direct effect on children's cognitive skills prior to school entry and may have long-term effects on child outcomes.
- Parenting education will have a short-term direct effect on parenting skills, which, prior to school entry, will have an indirect effect on children's cognitive skills.
- Adult education, literacy, and job skills programs will have a direct effect on parents. However, this is not expected to translate into short-term child-level effects.
- The performance of children in elementary and middle school will be enhanced by their experience in an early childhood program, as well as by their parents' enhanced parenting skills.
- In the long run (high school and beyond), all three program components will enhance the life chances of both parents and their children. Both generations will demonstrate reduced delinquency levels, reduced pregnancy rates, the ability to be informed and responsible citizens, and improved economic self-sufficiency.
Two-generation programs attempt to address these goals by offering three key services: (1) a developmentally appropriate early childhood program, (2) a parenting education component, and (3) an adult education, literacy, or job skills and training component. In addition, two-generation programs typically employ case managers who coordinate services, ensure that families are enrolled in appropriate services, cajole families to participate fully, provide on-the-spot counseling and crisis intervention, and provide some direct service. These programs often enroll families in existing educational and social services instead of creating duplicate service structures, and they typically provide ancillary services—such as transportation, meals, or child care—so families can participate in the main programmatic services.
Beyond these common characteristics there exists a great deal of variation in content, in the intensity and duration of the services, in the modes used to deliver these services, in the ages of the children served, and in the costs of the programs.