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Early Head Start–Child Welfare Services Initiative: Final Synthesis Report

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The Early Head Start-Child Welfare Services Initiative sought to enhance and expand the service network for families involved in the child welfare service system and provide more intensive supplemental services in local communities. The initiative facilitated collaboration between local child welfare service agencies and Early Head Start programs to give high-risk families access to child development, parenting, health, and family support services.

Twenty-four grantees created theories of change to facilitate local partnerships and deliver services to—

  • Children in the child welfare system who were living with their parents or other family members
  • Children in foster care settings
  • Children with parents who were incarcerated or in substance abuse recovery programs
  • Other children who were involved in child welfare services (birth to 3 years old)

Volume 1 of this report summarizes the results of process and outcome evaluations completed by 23 grantees.

Select Key Implementation Findings

  • A total of 1,303 children were enrolled in the initiative, including 336 (26 percent) in out-of-home placements at some point.
  • Participating children remained enrolled for nearly 11 months, on average, considerably less than the 21 month average observed among children in standard Early Head Start programs. This difference may reflect special challenges engaging and retaining families involved in the child welfare system.
  • Most (21 of 23) grantees established an initial memorandum of understanding or agreement with their partnering child welfare agency. Individual grantees achieved varying levels of success, however, in terms of establishing firm and lasting collaborative relationships.
  • Common barriers to more robust collaboration included a lack of communication between managerial and frontline staff and philosophical differences between participating agencies (e.g., focusing on parental knowledge and capacity versus case plan compliance and child safety).

Select Key Outcome Findings

  • Grantees demonstrated significant success achieving certain health outcomes related to child well-being, specifically the timely receipt of medical and developmental screenings, medical checkups, and immunizations.
  • Some grantees reported lower levels of stress among caregivers struggling with the challenges of raising children while maintaining their households. Among five grantees that systematically measured changes in stress using the Parenting Stress Index, average total caregiver stress scores decreased from the 73rd percentile at baseline to the 63rd percentile at follow-up.
  • Many grantees reported progress improving the safety and quality of children’s home environments. Four grantees reported improved home conditions (e.g., presence of appropriate play materials) using the Home Observation and Measurement of the Environment Inventory, with average scores increasing from 31.28 at baseline to 35.53 at follow-up. Four other grantees reported slight to substantial improvements in the safety conditions found in enrolled families’ homes as measured by locally designed home safety checklists.
  • Among 19 grantees that collected and reported maltreatment data, the average maltreatment recurrence rate among enrolled families was approximately 11 percent. Although not strictly comparable, the national Child and Family Service Review maltreatment recurrence rate in fiscal year 2006 was somewhat lower at 7.8 percent.

Volume 2 of the synthesis report presents grantee-specific findings, along with each grantee’s target population, core program features, evaluation design, process measures, and key outcomes of interest.