Term Paper: Gap: Early Childhood Intervention

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[. . .] "The findings of these early studies of mental growth of infants has been repeated sufficiently often so that it is now well established that test scores earned in the first year or two have relatively little predictive validity" (Bayley, 1970). Comprehensive reviews of the literature by Thomas (1970) fully support Bayley's view and draw the same conclusion. There are exceptions, however. Many developmental inventories are excellent screening devices capable of identifying students with permanent cognitive disabilities.

Through factor analysis, Bayley (1955) identified three distinct kinds of intellectual behaviors: sensory motor which is dominant during the first year, persistence which tends to be dominant during the second and third year, and a general intelligence which is dominant at age 4 and the only operating factor after age 6. This third, general intelligence factor of Bayley appears to be a stable intelligence factor.

The important consideration for research and evaluation is that there is no continuity across these three developmental stages. Rather, infants and toddlers develop a composite of skills that are not interdependent. Scores obtained when a child is in one stage of development will be uncorrelated to scores obtained when the child is in different stage.

Lewis and McGurk (1972) wrote in their classic Science article that infant development scales "are unsuitable instruments for assessing the effects of specific intervention programs" (p 1176) and that "the success of specific intervention programs must be assessed according to specific criteria related to the content of the program" (p 1177).

Few early childhood programs seek to improve overall intelligence or to hasten the general cognitive development of infants and toddlers. Rather most programs seek to provide interventions for specific identified needs, either for the family or child or both. The typical early childhood program can be accurately viewed as a collection of individually tailored programs. Thus, the individual intended outcomes should be identified and the program's success gauged against whether those outcomes are worthwhile and whether they were attained.

Due to the inaccuracies of control-comparison group hypothesis testing in this setting. The use of case studies, the computation of effect sizes, and the examination of growth curves can provide rich data to help policy makers and researchers understand interventions. Effect sizes help gauge the relative contributions of the intervention. Growth curves can help identify trends and control for some error.

It is clear that there are two approaches to evaluating an Early Childhood Intervention Program, however, neither of them is adequate to assess the efficacy of a program. To look only at external factors such as facility, qualifications of the staff and number of smoke detectors will not give us an accurate picture of the most important factor, do the children benefit from the program? Because of the age group involved and the difference in the individual rates of development in the group, it is also ineffective to use standard infant and early childhood development scales to assess the facility.

How then do we assess the effectiveness of an Early Childhood Intervention Program? Research has shown that certain factors in early childhood significantly effect the achievement of positive outcomes for young children. It would stand to reason then, that an effective childhood education program would incorporate as many of these factors as possible into its program. Would it not be possible to develop a scale based on the effective inclusion of these factors into the school program as a measure of the program's effectiveness?

Are There Critical Features To Include In Early Intervention?

While there have been too few attempts to determine critical features of effective early intervention programs, there are a few factors which are present in most studies that report the greatest effectiveness. These program features include: the age of the child at the time of intervention; level of parent involvement; and the intensity and/or the amount of structure of the program..

Many studies report that the earlier the intervention, the more effective it is. With intervention at birth or soon after the diagnosis of a disability or high risk factors, the developmental gains are greater and the likelihood of developing problems is reduced (Cooper, 1981; Garland, Stone, Swanson, and Woodruff, 1981; Maisto and German, 1979; Strain, Young, and Horowitz, 1981).

One hallmark of any successful early childhood program is the degree to which it involves parents. Such involvement should not stop when children reach the schoolhouse door. Ongoing communication between parents and teachers has become increasingly important. Parents can be involved as decision- makers, volunteers, and staff. They can participate in parent education and support groups, be encouraged to observe the classroom, and, in general, take a more active role in their child's education both at school and at home (Lombardi, 1992).

We cannot forget the role of fathers in the program. An important, yet often overlooked strategy in the effort to increase parent involvement in early childhood programs is involving fathers or other significant male role figures. In a recent study of a pre-kindergarten at-risk program, McBride and Lin (in press) found that a majority of the mothers surveyed reported their children had regular and consistent interaction with a father or other male role figures despite the high proportion of single-parent families being served by the program. In a nationwide survey of Head Start programs serving low-income families, Levine (1993) found that a man is present (whether the father, mother's boyfriend, or other male relative) in approximately 60% of Head Start families.

The lack of initiatives designed to encourage male involvement in pre-kindergarten programs for children who are at risk for later school failure does not build upon the strengths that many of these men can bring to the parenting situation, strengths that can be utilized in the development of effective home-school partnerships. When men become actively involved, they can have positive impacts on many aspects of children's development.

Given the support for increased involvement of parents in their children's schooling and the positive contributions men can make to their children's development, it is important to reach out specifically to fathers or other significant males in parent involvement efforts for pre-kindergarten and early childhood programs. In doing so, however, it is important to that several barriers must be overcome in order to successfully get men more involved. Levine (1993) has outlined four factors that constrain Head Start and state-funded pre-kindergarten programs from encouraging father involvement: (1) fathers' fears of exposing inadequacies; (2) ambivalence of program staff members about father involvement; (3) gatekeeping by mothers; and (4) inappropriate program design and delivery. Each one of these barriers must be overcome as programs attempt to encourage and facilitate increased involvement of fathers in their children's school experiences.

McBride and his colleagues (McBride, Obuchowski, & Rane, 1996) have identified several key issues that need to be explored as early childhood programs struggle to build stronger home-school partnerships through the development and implementation of parent involvement initiatives targeted at men.

Early childhood educators need to be specific in their reasons for developing parent involvement initiatives targeted at men. Prior to developing such initiatives, educators must ask themselves why they think such efforts are important and how they can enhance the services being provided to children and families. There are clear benefits to encouraging male involvement in early childhood programs for enrolled children, their families, and the programs in general. Focusing on male involvement because it is currently a "hot" social issue increases the likelihood that such efforts will wane when the next big issue emerges.

Not everyone will be committed to the concept of parent involvement initiatives targeted at fathers or other significant males. The lack of male involvement and "responsible" fathering behaviors is often cited as a major reason for children's later school failure, and many people will question why resources should be targeted at these men when they are viewed as the primary cause of the problems facing children. This resistance may come from mothers, teachers, school administrators, and community leaders. Since support from these groups is critical to the success of parent involvement initiatives designed for men, educators will need to build a strong rationale for developing such initiatives, a rationale that can be clearly articulated to these groups in order to gain their support for such efforts.

Educators will need to be specific about whom to target in their efforts to encourage male involvement. Research data have indicated that children growing up in low-income and single-parent homes often have regular and consistent interactions with a father figure, although not necessarily their biological father. Focusing efforts on biological fathers will exclude a large proportion of men who play significant roles in the lives of these children. The key for educators will be to identify who the men are in the lives of these children who can then become targets for these efforts.

Most early childhood educators have received little, if any, formalized education and training in the area of parent involvement. This is especially true in the area of male involvement in early childhood programs. If such… [END OF PREVIEW]

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