Parent-Child Home Programs work in Gateway Cities. Can they be scaled up?

The Gateway Cities Vision emphasizes the importance of early education and social and emotional growth in improving the learning conditions in the Gateway Cities. One way to approach this is through Parent-Child Home Programs (PCHPs), which use biweekly home visits to help develop parent-child relationships, language acquisition, and social and emotional experience. Currently there are 32 PCHPs in place across the Commonwealth, 14 of which serve Gateway Cities. Overall, PCHPs served 900 families across the Commonwealth in 2012-2013.

PCHPs target low-income, multi-lingual or non-native English speaking and non-traditional families, and the demographics of the families served bear this out. Sixty percent of families earn less then $20,000, and 81 percent of siblings in the program are eligible for free or reduced lunch at school. A third (34 percent) of families are Hispanic, 14 percent are African-American, and 10 percent are Asian. Forty-five percent received food stamps, 56 percent are on Medicaid, and 72 percent are receiving no other early childhood or educational services.

There is also evidence, from several studies, that these program are improving outcomes for students. One study involving the PCHP in Pittsfield, MA, found that children who participate in the two-year program are more prepared developmentally and have higher High School graduation rates further on down the line. A separate study, also conducted in Pittsfield, found that 84 percent of PCHP participants went on to graduate from college, compared to just 54 percent among low-income students who did not participate in the program. Another study in Salem found that PCHP children were referred for special education at a lower rate than children from the general population. PCHP costs approximately $2,000 per child per year, but special education services may reach $14,000 per child per year, suggesting that intervening early could save schools in the long run.

So the research shows that PCHPs work. The challenge for the programs is scaling up to serve more students in the Gateway Cities. Just to take one example, there are approximately 1,161 children (ages 0-5) living in poverty in Pittsfield but only 36 families were served by PCHP funds in FY14. This disparity holds in all of the Gateway Cities in which PCHPs operate (Table 1).

More funding would help expand the PCHP model to serve more students and to expand to the rest of the Gateway Cities. Some of the programs receive federal Title I funding, but the others rely state funding, which, since 2009 has been lumped in with other Coordinated Family and Community Engagement programs (Figure 1). The estimated amount spent on PCHP has fallen from $1,866,271 dollars in FY10 to $1,638,812 dollars in FY14.

Increasing funding will help, but given the huge disparities between the number families currently being served and the unmet need, one also need to ask how far an intensive program like PCHP, can be scaled up. One potential area of future study would be to see if modifications to the program – reducing the length of the program or the frequency of visits, would allow PCHPs to reach more families with similarly positive outcomes.

Until that data comes back, it’s important to protect the funding the program currently has, so that it can continue to prepare some of the most disadvantaged students in our Gateway Cities to thrive when they get to school.

The recently proposed House Ways & Means budget decreases the allocation for the cumulative line item that provides funding for PCHP programs by 13 percent, from $18,524,204 to $16,164,890. Although the specific allocation for PCHP is not listed, this cut to funding is sure to impact the amount distributed to the program.

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