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Mel Gravely

New Study Finds High Risk Children Particularly Benefit from Head Start

Several weeks ago, the Department of Health and Human Services released the third grade followup to the 2010 Head Start Impact Study. In our blog post about the release, we mentioned that it would take time for researchers to scour the data and draw conclusions on the third year followup. But the original 2010 report has been out for nearly three years, and researchers at Oregon State University (OSU) have been doing just that.

OSU researchers recently released the results of a new study in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology that analyzed data from the 2010 report. The researchers looked at a particular segment of the sample that they deemed “high risk,” specifically children in non-parental or foster care.

“These children tend to have unstable home lives, sometimes transitioning between different relatives, living with their grandma one month, and later with an aunt or other family member,” said lead author Shannon Lipscomb.

“They have a lot of challenges in their lives, and the stresses of that can cause behavioral and development issues.”

We know that children in non-parental care can be vulnerable to falling behind and may need additional support services, which is one reason why their findings are so encouraging. After analyzing the data for the 253 children in non-parental care, the researchers found “statistically significant” results suggesting that this group benefited from Head Start in terms of “school readiness, particularly in regards to early academic skills, positive teacher-child relationships, and a reduction in behavior problems.”

As researchers continue to comb through the enormous amount of data in the 2010 Impact Study and the Third Grade Followup, we hope to uncover some additional quantifiable results about what most of us in Head Start knew all along — that it is a program that works, and that it is a program worth saving.



  1. janet eades says:

    All depends on your definition of high risk. We had an emotionally at risk child in our class for 6 months before Head Start realized that we could not meet his needs in our classroom. Now we are trying to get the other 19 back on track after being subject to him.

  2. Linda Kimura says:

    I wonder if they corrected for those children who were living in stable longterm foster homes or stable longterm kinship care? One would expect those children to do better because they were no longer in the unstable parenting situation. So that would play a part in how well they did in Head Start. It’s the others. Those in poor foster care or moving around who are the true high risk. That’s why I’m hoping the research corrected for that. It would be much more meaningful than just calling all out of home placements ” high risk” which is really not accurate.

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