Program Goals/Target Population
Parent–Child Development Centers (PCDCs) provided a parent training program designed to foster relationships between parents and children. This primary prevention program concentrated on enhancing the academic aptitude and preventing problem behavior of children from low-income families. The goals of PCDCs were to have children:
- Present fewer acting-out behaviors
- Present fewer moody, withdrawn behaviors
- Be perceived as less hostile
- Be less often involved in delinquent activities
The original PCDCs existed as research and development centers and ran from 1970 to 1978. They were located in Birmingham, AL; Houston, Texas; and New Orleans, LA. Participants at all sites were racial and ethnic minorities living in impoverished urban centers. Each site had seven cohorts/waves of participants go through the 2-year parent training program, which concluded when children were 36 months (3 years) old. All three sites additionally offered parents classes in health, nutrition, and family planning and assisted families in obtaining public welfare and health services in their communities. Today, the three sites continue as parent–child centers assisting the same populations in receiving services. However, the parent training program, discussed further below, is no longer active at these parent–child centers.
The general theory guiding the PCDCs was that poverty persists because those affected by it lack the education and skills to move into well-paying jobs. Thus, if educational failure could be prevented and school achievement improved, then eventually economic status could improve as well. Previous research suggested that interventions targeting children should begin as early in a child’s life as possible and that improvement would continue if parents were integral to the intervention (Johnson 2006). The aim of the intervention was to facilitate basic cognitive, language, and social skills early in life to form a lasting foundation throughout the child’s life.
Though the PCDCs shared common goals, the parent training programs were developed independently at each site in accordance with funding agency instructions. Thus the three sites differed slightly in program activities and operation.
The first year of the parent training program was delivered in the home. Participants entered the program when their children were 1 year old. Paraprofessional and professional educators made 25 to 30 home visits, instructing mothers on how to understand infant behavior and how to stimulate their children’s cognitive, social, and language development. These in-home sessions lasted around 90 minutes, beginning with a review of the preceding session and discussion of assigned homework. Educators then presented a new lesson/activity for mothers to do with their children. The new lesson and activity was then practiced by the mother while the educator watched. Afterward, the educator and mother discussed what the child was learning and how he or she was learning those skills, then a new homework assignment was given. Mothers were the primary concentration of the PCDCs. Educators encouraged mothers to develop their children’s skills and resources by turning the home into an active learning environment.
In the second year, the in-home sessions ended, and mothers brought their children to project centers. Children attended preschool while mothers received classes in homemaking, child care, cognitive stimulation, and English as a second language. Fathers participated in optional monthly evening meetings. Because of requests by parents, additional classes in sex education, family planning, driver education, and home buying were given as well. All classes used a variety of educational approaches, conceptual presentations, and feedback. Social and medical services were provided by staff nurses and community workers, with emphases placed on the parents becoming knowledgeable about these services and on knowing how to gain access to them.
In the first year of the program mothers came to the PCDCs. Mothers and their children spent 3 half-days per week at the center. Mothers started off as observers, watching the professional educators work with their children. In the second year, this first cohort of mothers was in the center for 4 half-days per week and became understudy/assistant teachers to the second cohort of mothers entering the program. Thus, each mother in the program learned through observation of professional educators and teaching of other mothers. During the second year, mothers also came to the PCDC 1 full-day a week for classes in health, social services, child development, and adult growth. In the last months of the program, mothers attended 5 full-days a week, working with their children, teaching other mothers, and taking classes.
Families entered the program when their babies were 2 months old. Both versions of the parent training program—home visit and center-based—were available at this PCDC. The contents of the versions were similar, but group discussions occurred only in the center-based training program. The home visit parent training program was similar to the model that was employed in Houston, and the center-based program was similar to the model used in Birmingham. However, in New Orleans, the discussion topics and teaching methods concentrated more on the personal development of mothers than did the other two sites, which placed more attention on the children.
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Both studies report some positive outcomes and significant findings; however, the preponderance of evidence in these studies indicates that the program had no effects on children’s behavior.
Johnson and Walker (1991) found no statistically significant differences between the control groups and the Parent–Child Development Center (PCDC) groups for individual subject grades or total grade score.
Iowa Basic Skills Tests
There were significant group differences found on three verbal scales and on the Composite score of the Iowa Basic Skills Tests. The PCDC group scored higher than the control group did on the Vocabulary, Reading, and Language scales. However, this effect was not evident in the Spelling or Arithmetic scales. On these measures, both the program and control group were statistically equivalent. Further investigation by gender revealed that girls scored higher than boys, regardless of group assignment, on the Composite score as well as the Language, Spelling, and Arithmetic scales.
Classroom Behavior Inventory
Students in the control groups were rated as being significantly more hostile than those in the program groups. Examination of the groups by gender revealed that program group boys were significantly less dependent than control group boys were. No differences were evident for girls, regardless of group assignment, in dependency. There also was no difference among the genders and program types by Task Orientation.
Retention in Grade and Special Resources
Although on virtually all measures, program children seemed to do better in school, none of the differences were statistically significant in regard to retention in grade and referral to special resources. Despite the higher scores achieved on portions of the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, the PCDC children stayed in grade level or received special resources equivalent to control group children. There were no gender differences on these measures, either. Despite some positive outcomes on their achievement tests, PCDC participants did not perform significantly different in school from the control group.
Johnson (2006) found that, across all measures, there were no statistically significant differences between the control groups and the PCDC groups. The program appears to have no sustained effect on child behavior.
Child Behavior Checklist
There were no statistically significant differences for internal, external, or total behavioral problems between the PCDC program group and the control group across the three sites.
Child Behavior Inventory
There was no statistically significant differences between the PCDC program groups and the control groups at any of the three sites on the hostility measure of the Classroom Behavior Inventory.
Mother and Teacher Observations
Mothers and teachers completed behavioral observations of the PCDC group and control group children in this study. Program group children were no different from control group children on measures of problem behavior or delinquency across all three sites. There were no statistically significant differences between the PCDC program groups and the control groups for perceived child behavioral problems. These same findings hold true for delinquency.
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