Report: Benefits of Early Care and Education for Children in the Child Welfare System

The Administration for Children and Families, under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, released a new report titled “Benefits of Early Care and Education for Children in the Child Welfare System.”

The report points to recent research showing that children under the age of 5 are at the greatest risk of child maltreatment and neglect and says there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that early care and education (ECE) may improve child safety and well-being among children involved in the child welfare system.

According to the report, ECE refers to regular, non-parental care or supervision of young children, typically provided to help parents seeking employment or to promote early child development and school readiness. Such programs include child care, day care, early education, nursery school, prekindergarten, and preschool.

For example, the report cites research on children in Minnesota’s child welfare system who were enrolled in ECE programs. They experienced improvement in their social competence and receptive vocabulary (though not in math and other areas) over the course of their final prekindergarten year of ECE.

“However,” the report reads, “the vast majority of young children in the CWS [child welfare system] are not utilizing ECE services despite these apparent benefits.”

The report also cites a national survey of current and former foster parents that documented high levels of unmet need for “day care” services. The survey found that more than half of relative foster parents and 45.2 percent of non-relative caregivers reported needing day care services, yet the need was unmet for a third of relative foster parents and almost a quarter of non-relative foster parents.

The Effects of Early Care and Education on Child Welfare Outcomes: Possible Pathways

The Effects of Early Care and Education on Child Welfare Outcomes: Possible Pathways

While the benefits to some children are well documented in existing research, “research on the effects of ECE on permanency outcomes for children placed in foster care is not as abundant, and the results are mixed,” reads the report.

The report concludes with a discussion on key questions for future research and implications. Read the full report here.

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