Children living in poverty face considerable developmental risks. This report presents interim results from an evaluation of parental employment and educational services delivered within a two-generational, early childhood program targeting low-income families who are expecting a child or who have a child under age 3. This study is part of the Enhanced Services for the Hard-to-Employ Demonstration and Evaluation project, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, with additional funding from the U.S. Department of Labor.
The program model tested here aims to dually address both the employment and educational needs of parents who are at risk of unemployment and the developmental needs of their young children. The program’s effects are being studied by examining 610 families who were randomly assigned to a program group, which received the enhanced two-generational program, or to a control group, which could only access alternative services in the community.
- The programs increased their focus on parental employment and educational needs, but the implementation of the enhancements was weak. Programs hired on-site "self-sufficiency" specialists, developed tools to assess parents’ employment and educational needs as well as resource guides of employment and educational services in the community, and conducted trainings for program staff and participating families that focused on these topics. However, programs struggled to provide as one of their core services a proactive focus on parental employment and educational needs.
- Take-up of the enhanced parental employment and educational services was lower than expected. Only 63 percent of families in the program group ever discussed employment, educational, and self-sufficiency needs with program staff.
- The program increased families’ receipt of child-focused developmental services, but the control group also reporting receiving high levels of such assistance. Among program group families, 91 percent reported receiving assistance in this area, compared with 80 percent of control group families.
- The short-term impacts of the program 18 months after families entered the study are mixed. For the full research sample, the program affected the use of center-based child care but had limited impacts on other outcomes. Beneficial program impacts were evident among families who were expecting a child or who had an infant less than 12 months old at study entry; for this subgroup, the program had positive impacts across several outcomes related to employment, child care, parenting, and children’s social and emotional adjustment. Program impacts were more variable among families with a toddler who was 12 months old or older at study entry.
This evaluation is in an early stage and will eventually include three and a half years of follow-up. Future investigation will be valuable in determining the extent to which the patterns of impacts presented here are enduring and robust over time. A final report is planned to be released in 2011.