Early Childhood and Family Development Programs Improve the Quality of Life for Low-Income Families

HRD-79-40: Published: Feb 6, 1979. Publicly Released: Feb 6, 1979.

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GAO reviewed the results and costs of federally funded early childhood development programs for low-income children and their families. About 3.7 million young children are in need of help to attain an opportunity to lead successful and healthy lives. Many young children receive inadequate care and millions of children suffer from poor nutrition, a lack of immunization, abuse, neglect, and undiagnosed learning disabilities. In 1975 about 89,000 women who gave birth received little or no prenatal care, thereby increasing the risk of mental retardation in the newborn. It has been estimated that 75 percent of mental retardation can be attributed to adverse environmental conditions.

Research completed in 1977 indicates that developmental programs for low-income children during their first 4 years of life produced lasting, significant gains; helped them to perform substantially better in school than control groups of children who did not participate in early childhood development programs and were most effective when the child starts at a young age and when parents are closely involved in the program. The research also showed that parents are receptive to and enthusiastically support such programs. The costs of early childhood and family development programs vary, depending on how the programs are implemented and community needs and resources.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should consider this report in its deliberations on any future legislation that authorizes comprehensive child care programs. If legislation is enacted, it should require that the programs provide or secure, emphasizing use of existing community resources, comprehensive services for young children and their families who wish to participate, including: (1) preventive and continual health care and nutrition services; (2) family services based on a needs and goals assessment for each family; (3) developmental/educational programs for children from birth through preschool years, with recognition that parents are the first and most important educators of their children; and (4) programs that involve parents in program activities and give parents an influential role in program planning and management. Funding comprehensive child care programs should be increased gradually, and evaluations should be made while they are ongoing. The programs should be revised and improved as new and effective techniques pertaining to the development of young children and families are discovered and refined.


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