Early childhood programs - interventions for children and their families occurring between the prenatal period and age 5 -- have expanded rapidly in the past several decades and represent substantial public investments in children's healthy development. Despite the hundreds of evaluation studies that have been conducted, we lack a comprehensive understanding of the effectiveness of different types of programs for improving children's wellbeing, and how program intensity matters within and across program types. Meta-analysis provides a systematic method for quantitative synthesis of the entire population of early childhood program evaluations and for the full range of children served by these programs. Yet to date, no meta-analysis has integrated multiple program types and programmatic components. As a result, policymakers and program administrators are unable to make evidence-based decisions about which types of programs or program components would be most effective for meeting their goals. We propose to: 1) complete the coding of a database of all rigorous early childhood program evaluations conducted between 1960 and 2007 in the United States;2) perform a database-wide descriptive analysis of impacts on children's wellbeing by program type (early childhood education;parenting support;parent socioeconomic support;support of child nutrition) and key program characteristics;3) understand how programmatic components and combinations of programmatic components predict the magnitude of effects in particular child domains;and 4) prepare and release the meta-analytic database for public use. One key innovation of our proposed project is that the database will be the first to encompass both parent- and child-focused programs. A second is that our inclusion criteria for evaluation studies are both broader (including, for example, econometric studies) and more rigorous than have been employed in prior meta-analyses in this area. Finally, ours will be the first meta- analytic database in early childhood to be prepared and released for public use.
Policymakers and program administrators currently lack systematic and comprehensive evidence on which types of early childhood programs or program components are most effective for improving the well-being - physical, cognitive and socio-emotional of vulnerable children. The proposed research will provide this information as well as provide the research community with a database that can be used to address a host of additional policy-relevant intervention questions.