In his State Of The Union address the President mentioned the need for pre-kindergarten childcare as a way of strengthening educational development in the country. He cited the example of the states of Georgia and Oklahoma as having exemplary pre-kindergarten programs that have shown positive results in advancing children’s educational development.
Oklahoma was especially interesting because they started finding positive results with three-year-olds when they had to enroll them in order to meet requirements for the federally-funded Head Start program. There were not enough eligible four-year-olds so they supplemented the numbers with low income younger children. As one of the more conservative states their response was noteworthy.
Among the positive results are:
Better achievement in grade and high school.
Lower drop-out rates.
Fewer disciplinary problems and higher graduation rates.
The children learn how to socialize in appropriate ways, deferring to the needs and rights of others, denying immediate gratification for the good of the rest of their group, something essential to later social development and acceptance.
They know that these results are attributable to the program’s intervention because of 40-plus years of linear measurement with groups of similar children who do not participate.
There has long been a high correlation between the abuse of children and later criminal behavior by many of those kids as they grow into adulthood.
In the 1970’s the New York State Assembly had authorized a research project to be carried out to examine the records of inmates in their prison system to determine what the first cause of involvement was for the prisoners in their institutions. They discovered that in over half the cases the reported cause was abuse or neglect as a child. The results were hampered by the fact that in many cases early records had been destroyed in compliance with a law that sealed juvenile records.
It is interesting to note that the first ever legal case prosecuting an individual for the abuse of a child was in the city of New York in 1874. There were no laws on the books that prohibited child abuse so the action was brought on behalf of the young girl who although not protected as a human being was protected as an animal since laws prohibiting cruelty to animals had been on the books in New York since the 1850’s.
In Washington State they went even farther in proving the effectiveness of early intervention. In 1977, after the passage in Washington of laws targeting the abuse of children, a local child care agency in Seattle called Childhaven collaborated with the State in an early intervention program that focused on serving children from birth to two years old.
The children were identified by the state Child Protective Services as being at risk because of abuse or neglect. The program zeroed in on the neediest of the needy and over the past 36 years it has shown outstanding results.
The measurement used in that program was randomized assignment. It was done at a time when there were no other specialized treatments available that focused on the child and not the family unit. That means that the child was picked up each day even if the parent was not cooperating. However, parenting skills were taught at the facility and individual therapy was available. The outcomes were especially rewarding in the area of later delinquency and violenent behavior showing significant differences between the treatment and control groups. Another key finding was that after a short time the parents became involved in the program joined in getting help thus improving the lives of both parent and child, thus the family as a unit was strengthened.
In the President’s list of proposals made in his February 12th address nothing is more important for the well being of our society than the early childhood initiative. The care and nurturance of our young is something our founding fathers thought would be taken care of by families, almost all of whom lived on farms. They were practical people however and seeing what has transpired in the intervening 237 years since they first led our country to its independence there is no doubt that they would have met need with action.
There is an old saying “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” All of us need to ensure that the hand is benign and non-violent.
— Pat Gogerty