Science and Success, Second Edition: Sex Education and Other Programs that Work to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections
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Evaluators' comments: The outcomes show that high quality educational childcare can make a dramatic difference in the lives of young African American adults reared in poverty. Individuals assigned to the preschool treatment group had, on average, significantly higher cognitive test scores as young adults than did untreated controls, they earned higher scores on tests of reading and mathematics skills, they attained more years of education, they were more likely to attend a four-year college or university, and they were less likely to become teen parents.
The Abecedarian Project is grounded in general systems theory. The program views development as an ongoing process of interactions. These important interactions range from the individual with factors that directly affect survival to interactions with caregivers, social systems in home, school, and neighborhood, and societal forces.
Service delivery begins in infancy with child-centered, full-day, year-round childcare. Free transportation to and from childcare is also available. The curriculum includes "educational games" that emphasize and develop skills in cognition, language, and adaptive behaviors. Activities are individualized to meet the needs of each child and become more skills-based and group oriented for older pre-school children.
In the school-age phase, the goal is to involve parents in their children's learning. Families are assigned a Home School Resource Teacher (HSRT) who serves as a liaison between the school and home for the first three years that the child attends public school. To involve parents in their children's education, homeroom teachers develop individualized curriculum packets, based on the needs of each treatment child. The HSRT delivers the curriculum packets to parents every two weeks and encourages parents to use the packets with their children for 15 minutes each day. HSRTs seek continuous feedback from the parents regarding the curriculum packets and activities in the packets, and classroom teachers and parents also meet regularly.
Starting with pilot research in 1971 and enrollment of subjects in 1972, the Abecedarian Project identified multi-risk families and their children in North Carolina. Selection criteria were based on 13 socio-demographic factors that were weighted to create a High Risk Index. In addition, infants had to appear free of biological conditions associated with mental, sensory, and motor disabilities.
Four cohorts of families were enrolled between 1972 and 1977. During admission, recruited pairs of families were matched on High Risk Index scores and then assigned to preschool treatment or control status on the basis of a table of random numbers. A total of 109 eligible families, to whom 111 infants were born, accepted their random assignments and agreed to take part. Characteristics of families in the two groups were similar: all families met poverty guidelines. Most mothers were young (mean, 20 years of age), had less than a high school education (mean, 10 years of education), were unmarried, lived in multigenerational households, and reported no earned income. One-third of participants were on public assistance. Although ethnicity was not a factor for participation, 98 percent of participants were African American.
Families in both treatment and control conditions received supportive social services, as needed. Control infants also received nutritional supplements through age 15 months. Although control group children did not receive systematic educational intervention, a number of them attended other childcare centers. Thus, early treatment and control comparisons were between children who received the Abecedarian educational childcare and others cared for at home or in a variety of childcare settings.
In the next phase of the evaluation, pairs of children were again matched within treatment and control groups and randomly assigned to school-age treatment and control conditions. This created four treatment conditions: children with preschool plus school age treatment; children with preschool treatment only; children with school age treatment only; control children (no intervention treatment).
At age 21, 105 of the original 111 infants were living and eligible for follow-up. Of the 105 eligible individuals, 104 took part in the follow-up survey. Pre-school attrition meant that only 96 individuals were given school-age group assignments, and 95 were available for the four-group comparison. Data were collected from the young adults using standardized tests, questionnaires, and an interview, typically during a single session.
Reduced numbers of teenage births—Fifty-six percent of preschool treatment young women reported no birth by age 21, compared to 43 percent of control females (n=51). Of the 44 percent of treatment females who reported a birth prior to age 21 (n=11), only three had a second child and none had three children. By comparison, 57 percent of control females had one child by age 21 (n=16); six had two children; and two had three children. In other words, almost twice as many children were born to females in the preschool control group as in the preschool treatment group.
Note: There were no significant findings related to the school-age only treatment group.
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