Why Comprehensive Early Childhood Care is so important
By funding Head Start and ECEAP we are investing at the most critical time period where we can have the most impact. Brain researchers have discovered that 90 percent of brain development is completed by the age of 3 and by age 4 concepts of compassion, conscience and personal responsibility are established. Brain development is "activity-dependent," meaning that the electrical activity in every circuit--sensory, motor, emotional, cognitive--shapes the way that circuit gets put together. Like computer circuits, neural circuits process information through the flow of electricity. Unlike computer circuits, however, the circuits in our brains are not fixed. Every experience--whether it's seeing one's first rainbow, riding a bicycle, reading a book or sharing a joke--excites certain neural circuits and leaves others inactive. Those that are repeatedly and consistently turned on will be strengthened, while those that are rarely excited may drop away. Or, as neuroscientists sometimes say, "Cells that fire together, wire together."
Do these programs really work?
Yes. Recent studies point to both short and long term positive gains for children participating in comprehensive early care programs. Here are just a few positive reports:
- The results of a randomly selected longitudinal study of more than 600 Head Start graduates in San Bernardino County, California, showed that society receives nearly $9 in benefits for every $1 invested in these Head Start children. These benefits include increased earnings, employment, and family stability, and decreased welfare dependency, crime costs, grade repetition, and special education.
- A study from researchers at UCLA found that Head Start children are significantly less likely to have been charged with a crime than their siblings who did not participate in Head Start.
- In a 12-year longitudinal study of ECEAP (1988-2000), researchers found that ECEAP children made significantly greater academic gains, displayed more positive behaviors, enjoyed school more, and had fewer health problems than non-ECEAP children.
- Families also greatly benefited from ECEAP's family orientation and focus on parent involvement and training. In year 1 of the study only 5% of ECEAP families were above the Federal Poverty Level; in year 9 over 50% had reached that level, a ten-fold increase. Their mean family income rose by more than 51%, and their reliance on public assistance was greatly reduced.
- Other studies have shown that at-risk children without quality preschool were 70% more likely to commit violent crimes, and have lower graduation rates and higher drug use.