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Children and Youth Services Review

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Abused children -- Statistics, Prevention -- Child abuse and neglect, Early childhood education -- United States -- Research, Head Start programs


The high societal and personal costs of child maltreatment make identification of effective early prevention programs a high research priority. Early Head Start (EHS), a dual generational program serving low-income families with children prenatally through age three years, is one of the largest federally funded programs for infants and toddlers in the United States. A national randomized trial found EHS to be effective in improving parent and child outcomes, but its effectiveness in reducing child maltreatment was not assessed. The current study used administrative data from state child welfare agencies to examine the impact of EHS on documented abuse and neglect among children from seven of the original seventeen programs in the national EHS randomized controlled trial. Results indicated that children in EHS had significantly fewer child welfare encounters between the ages of five and nine years than did children in the control group, and that EHS slowed the rate of subsequent encounters. Additionally, compared to children in the control group, children in EHS were less likely to have a substantiated report of physical or sexual abuse, but more likely to have a substantiated report of neglect. These findings suggest that EHS may be effective in reducing child maltreatment among low-income children, in particular, physical and sexual abuse.


This is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in the journal Children and Youth Services Review. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. A definitive version was subsequently published.



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