Recently there has been considerable discussion about the economic benefits of investing in young children. USA Today, Science Daily, PBS News Hour, the New York Times and others have all reported recently on the importance of putting our money (as a society) where it counts- with young children. Most of these articles and discussions focus on the impact of intervention programs that are generally created for preschooler aged-children with the goal of helping low income children. Some examples of well-run, successful intervention programs are: the Perry Preschool Program, the Carolina Abecedarian Project, the Child-Parent Center Program, and the Harlem Children’s Zone.
Most recently researchers from the University of Minnesota in collaboration with the Chicago Public Schools published a study of the Cost-Benefit Analysis of Chicago’s Child-Parent Center Early Education Program. The articles in USA Today, Science Daily, PBS News Hour sum up the study quite nicely. The basic take home point from the study was that early intervention programs, specifically the Child-Parent Center Early Education Program, are beneficial not only because kids that attend these programs do better in school, careers, and life in general, but also society as a whole benefits economically. Yep, our return on investment is up to 18% for this program!
Obviously this is great news. But it seems that no one is talking about the parents… Yes, in most of these programs parents select to participate and to some extent the parents who select into such programs are likely different in some ways than parents that don’t select to participate (for example, maybe they are more involved/interested in their children’s education). Sure, that can have an impact on the findings. But what I think is more interesting is the benefits of these programs directly on the parents and their relationships with their children and their child’s education.
The Child-Parent Center program has parent in the name-it’s clearly a focus of the program! The program requires parents to participate and be actively involved in their child’s education, by volunteering at school events or classroom activities, etc. They are required to be involved with the program at least 1/2 day per week. This program also offers parents resources and training. They have a “parent room” next to the child’s classroom that is staffed by a full-time parent-resource teacher who among other responsibilities works to improve parent-child interaction. (Click here for a complete description of the Parent part of this program).
This dedication to helping parents parent is crucial and one that gets swept under the rug in many of the reviews of such programs. Many of the programs mentioned above have some sort of parenting component. These programs recognize the importance of involving the parent and providing them with materials to be the best parents they can. It just seems that the parenting portion of these programs is something that all parents could benefit from and I wish that more preschools or child-care centers (federally funded or not) would implement similar programs as well.