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Policy

Investing in Our Children: What We Know and Don't Know About the Costs and Benefits of Early Childhood Interventions
http://www.rand.org/pubs/monograph_reports/MR898/
Lynn A. Karoly, Peter W. Greenwood, Susan S. Everingham, Jill Hoube, M.Rebecca Kilburn, C. Peter Rydell, Matthew R. Sanders, James R. Chiesa

There is increasing evidence that the first few years after birth are particularly important to child development and present a window of opportunity to get a child's life off to a good start.  At the same time, during those years children are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of poverty and other social stressors. Elected officials have begun proposing potentially costly programs to intervene early in the lives of disadvantaged children. Have such interventions been demonstrated to yield substantial benefits? To what extent might they pay for themselves through lower welfare and criminal justice costs incurred by participating children as they grow into adults?

In an effort to answer those questions, this study synthesizes the results of a number of previous evaluations. Conclusions are that under carefully controlled conditions, early childhood interventions can yield substantial advantages to recipients in terms of emotional and cognitive development, education, economic well-being and health. (The latter two benefits apply to the children's families as well.) If these interventions can be duplicated on a large scale, the costs of the programs could be exceeded by subsequent savings to the government. Furthermore, the more carefully the interventions are targeted to children most likely to benefit, the more likely it is that savings will exceed costs. Unfortunately, these conclusions rest on only a few methodologically sound studies. The authors argue for broader demonstrations accompanied by rigorous evaluations to resolve several important unknowns. These include the most efficient ways to design and target programs, the extent to which effectiveness is lost on scale-up, and the implications of welfare reform and other "safety net" changes. 


(Adapted from information in Investing in Our Children:  What We Know and Don't Know About the Costs and Benefits of Early Childhood Interventions, 1998  pgs. xi-xxii, http://www.rand.org/publications/MR/MR898, and used with the permission of RAND, Santa Monica, CA , 1998)





 

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