Comprehensive Child Development Program

A note on this page's publication date

The content we created in 2008 appears below. This content is likely to be no longer fully accurate, both with respect to the research it presents and with respect to what it implies about our views and positions.

NOTE: All page references below refer to the "National Impact Evaluation of the Comprehensive Child Development Program" available online here. (Page numbers are in the form of Chapter-Page.)

The program

The Comprehensive Child Development Program (a Federally funded initiative) funded case managers to visit low-income families, assess their needs, and refer them (and their children) to existing local services such as job training programs for mothers and child care programs for children. (The basic program design is on pages EX-3 and EX-4; examples of services offered are on page 2-5.) Case managers visited each family for once every 1-2 weeks, and visits typically lasted 30-90 minutes (Pg 2-2).

Initial funding was in the form of a demonstration project with a significant focus on assessing whether or not this program was effective and therefore worthy of additional funding. Evaluators performed a randomized controlled trial of the success of the program. Approximately 4,400 took part in the evaluation with roughly 2,200 in both the experiment and control groups (Pg 3-3).

For parents, the program aimed to:

Improve the ability of parents to be (1) economically self-sufficient members of society, and (2) effective parents to their children. Underlying this strategy was the assumption that the effects of poverty on young children are mediated by parents, and that changing the lives and behaviors of parents will have significant and positive effects on children's development. (Pg 4-1)

On those measures, there were no statistically significant differences between the control and experiment groups of mothers in terms of employment (specifically, hours per week worked, holding a full-time vs a part-time job, stability and continuity of employment; total household income; and receipt of public assistance.) There also was no difference in terms of observational scores regarding parents' behavior toward their children. A comprehensive table of parental results is on page 4-17.

For children, the program aimed to:

Enhance children's development indirectly, through parenting education and support for increased economic wellbeing for the family, and directly, through the provision of quality early childhood experiences and adequate preventive health care. (Pg 5-1)

There were no statistically significant differences between the experiment and control group on cognitive functioning; children's health; or, child births after the program began. There was a slight difference in children's adaptive social behavior. All results are on pages 5-18 through 5-27.

Why didn't the program work?

It's possible that while those in the experiment group received more services than those in the control group, "many control group families were able to obtain services on their own. The resulting impact on the amount of services received by CCDP families may not have been large enough to result in important differences on outcome measures." (Pg 8-8)

It's also possible that relatively high incompletion rates among the families - the program was intended to run for five years, though only 33% of families lasted that long (Pg 2-14) - led to poor results.

Both of the above issues do indicate that the program like this (i.e., case managers visiting families to help them access existing social services) would have little impact, though it doesn't necessarily indicate that the services themselves when accessed have little impact (though that is certainly a possibility).

Note that a paper by Walter Gilliam at the Yale University Child Study Center (available online here) raises the question of whether the experiment and control groups were adequately randomized (see Pg 47). The impact study also provides a table of all sites, select variables, and the likelihood that the observed difference in baseline characterstics between the two groups was due to pure chance (see Pg 3-27). We recognize this as a potential issue, but it does not change our overall view of the CCDP.