Investing in the Early Years

The Costs and Benefits of Investing in Early Childhood in New Hampshire

by Lynn A. Karoly

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Research Questions

  1. What is the landscape of current investments in early childhood programs in New Hampshire?
  2. What do we know so far about the benefits and economic returns of home visiting from the prenatal period to age 2 or 3?
  3. What do we know so far about the benefits and economic returns of high-quality child care for infants and toddlers?
  4. What do we know so far about the benefits and economic returns of high-quality one- or two-year preschool programs?
  5. What are the costs and benefits of statewide investments in proven models for at-risk children that are amenable to economic analysis?

Recognizing the importance of the first five years of life, states have been expanding their investments in an array of early childhood interventions designed to address early life stressors and other factors that can compose healthy child development. Drawing on an extensive body of program evaluation and economic evaluation research, this report documents the ongoing need for early childhood investments in the state of New Hampshire, particularly for at-risk children; the evidence base for three strategies for promoting child development from birth to kindergarten entry — early home visiting, high-quality child care, and high-quality preschool; and the estimated economic returns in New Hampshire under various scenarios for expanding investments in such programs.

Key Findings

New Hampshire Has a Significant At-Risk Population

  • New Hampshire has a relatively low poverty rate of 12 percent for young children (ages 0 to 5 and net yet in kindergarten). But after accounting for the income required to achieve an adequate standard of living (defined as three times the federal poverty level), 45 percent of the state's young children live in families with income below that threshold.
  • Accounting for various risk factors at birth, as many as one-third of all births in New Hampshire could be considered at risk because of low birth weight, low family resources, or other stressors that can compromise healthy development.

At-Risk Children Face Continued Disadvantages

  • Children who experience low income and other early life adversities enter school with lower levels of readiness than their more-advantaged peers. These patterns are manifested in considerable gaps in measures of student achievement and high school graduation rates when charted by income level.
  • Public investments in young children in New Hampshire include such programs as home visiting in the first few years of life, subsidized child care, and early learning programs. These programs are not funded to reach all income-eligible children and their families, nor are they funded to reach higher up the income ladder where children still face risks in early childhood that could compromise their development. There is also scope to improve the quality of the available programs.

Early Intervention Shows Distinct Benefits

  • Analysis indicates that benefits occur in multiple domains from home-visiting models that serve at-risk mothers, begin prenatally, and continue through the first few years of the child's life. The strongest evidence for sustained benefits comes from the Nurse-Family Partnership program. Our benefit-cost analysis for New Hampshire of this program shows a return of about $4 to $6 for every dollar invested.
  • Extensive research has documented short- and longer-term benefits of participating in scaled-up high-quality preschool programs, particularly for children in low- to moderate-income families. Our benefit-cost analysis for New Hampshire of a high-quality one-year state-funded voluntary preschool program that would be available to children in families with incomes up to 300 percent of poverty indicates a positive economic return of about $2 for every dollar invested, with an even higher return for a program targeted at the lowest-income children.

Recommendations

  • Consider an investment portfolio with a continuum of coordinated programs. Because children may be at risk of compromised development throughout the early years, it is important to invest in a portfolio of evidence-based programs across the span of the early childhood years.
  • Invest in program quality, maximize participation, and optimize the transition to the early elementary grades. The estimated economic returns are predicated on implementing high quality programs to ensure that the impacts measured in evaluations of programs in other communities are realized. Another consideration for maximizing impact is ensuring that participating children and adults engage in the program as fully as possible. To further capitalize on early childhood investments, it is important to have alignment between the early childhood system and the K–12 systems, especially in the early elementary grades.
  • Include resources to monitor the quality of program implementation, evaluate new program models, and engage in continuous quality improvement. Ensuring that early childhood programs are as effective as possible means engaging in an ongoing process of monitoring the quality of the program services delivered, assessing participant outcomes, and periodically evaluating program impacts relative to a valid comparison group.
  • Invest in integrated data systems to ensure that families and children can benefit from the continuum of offerings and to support monitoring and evaluation. Such data systems can be used to monitor participation rates, identify populations that are not accessing program services, ensure a handoff from participation in one program to another as children mature, and support the process of continuous quality improvement.

This research was funded by the Endowment for Health, the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, the Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund, the New Hampshire Department of Education, and the HNH Foundation. The project was conducted jointly in RAND Education and RAND Labor and Population.

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