Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children
Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

A recent study shows that home visiting programs can dramatically improve children’s school readiness.

The study report — “Long-Term Academic Outcomes of Participation in the Parent-Child Home Program in King County, WA,” — explains:

“The Parent-Child Home Program (PCHP) is an intensive two-year home-visiting program aimed at increasing school readiness among young children from families who face multiple obstacles to educational and economic success, such as poverty, low literacy, limited education, and language barriers.”

Families enroll “when children are about two years old and receive two 30-minute visits per week for 23 weeks in each year of the program, for a total of 92 visits.”

The home visitor “shares a language and cultural background with the family” and “uses a non-directive approach and a high-quality toy or book, which is left as a gift for the family, to model behaviors for parents that enhance children’s development.”

The national program was founded in 1965 based on the work of psychologist Phyllis Levenstein, according to PCHP’s national website.

Locally, Carol Rubin, PCHP’s Massachusetts regional coordinator, explains that the program “has a long and successful history in Massachusetts of preparing at-risk children and families for school success. Working in over 160 cities and towns, we engage parents and preschool aged children in reading and play activities, helping parents to become their child’s first and most important teacher and teaching children school readiness skills through ‘learning through play.’”

And in King County, Wash., the focus of the recent report, home visiting started in 2006. It “has grown from a pilot funded by the Business Partnership for Early Learning (BPEL) starting with 106 families to a United Way of King County sponsored initiative now reaching 1,200 families through nine community-based agency partners.”

The Washington County study was conducted by the consulting firm ORS Impact.


Long-term Results

Over the years, researchers have highlighted the short-term gains associated with the program.

This study looks at long-term gains for a diverse pool of children.

“Participants in this evaluation are predominately low income and families of color; 38% of the families identify as Asian, 33% identify as Black or African American, and 22% identify as Latino. Nearly the entire cohort (89%) is eligible for free or reduced lunch.”

In addition, nearly 80 percent speak a language other than English at home.

These children were compared to a “demographically matched comparison group,” and researchers looked at “standardized assessments of school readiness, English proficiency, and Grade 3 academic performance.”

Three findings emerged:

• Increased Kindergarten Readiness

“The percentage of PCHP graduates assessed as ‘ready for kindergarten’ in all six domains measured by the Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills (WaKIDS) was significantly higher than the matched comparison group and higher than the state average.”

 • Increased Kindergarten English Language Proficiency

Compared to their peers, PCHP graduates demonstrated higher levels of proficiency “on the Washington English Language Proficiency Assessment (WELPA) Placement Test.” There was “a significant difference in two of the four composite skill areas assessed.” And, “PCHP graduates also scored higher than the state average in each skill area assessed.”

• Increased Grade 3 Academic Performance

“On Grade 3 reading and math standardized achievement tests (Measurements of Student Progress, or MSP), PCHP graduates significantly outperformed children in the comparison group. The percentage of PCHP graduates meeting the Grade 3 state standard in math was also higher than statewide percentages.”


Return on Investment and Next Steps

“Investment in PCHP in King County has an average program cost of $8,000-$9,000 per child, but the proven social and economic benefits suggest a high return on the initial investment,” the Washington County report says. As PCHP graduates continue their educational journey, researchers can track their progress and look at home visiting’s impact on attendance, special education, and high school graduate rates.

These latest research findings continue to make the case for home visiting. It’s up to parents, advocates, and policymakers to take more action.

President Obama supports home visiting programs, and so do democratic and republican members of Congress. Now the program need widespread, bipartisan financial support to give parents the skills they need to provide the best outcomes for their young children.