Head Start pays off for kids with multiple disabilities

Young children with multiple disabilities who are enrolled in Head Start have better literacy, reading, and math scores than those who aren’t in the federally funded program, research shows.

Head Start provides early education services to nearly 1 million low-income children up to age 5 every year, and federal requirements require that children with disabilities comprise at least 10 percent of its enrollment.

The study is one of the first to investigate Head Start’s impact on children with disabilities, which include speech/language, cognitive, behavioral/emotional, sensory, and physical impairments.

“Our findings suggest that children who have multiple disabilities are doing better by kindergarten age in terms of their language and early academic skills compared to children with multiple disabilities who are not attending Head Start,” says Kristin Rispoli, assistant professor in Michigan State University’s College of Education.

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Rispoli and Kyunghee Lee, associate professor of social work, analyzed the data of 570 children drawn from the Head Start Impact Study, a nationally representative study of about 5,000 children randomly assigned to Head Start or non-Head Start programs.

In addition to improved academic performance, the study found that children in Head Start were more likely to have multiple disabilities and to have those disabilities verified by a doctor (as opposed to just the school district).

“This suggests that Head Start is more effectively connecting families to medical providers and psychologists in the community to assess a child when there is a concern that the child has a disability,” Rispoli says. “These findings align with Head Start’s commitment to addressing the complete needs of the child and connecting families to community supports.”

The study appears online in the Journal of Social Service Research.

Source: Michigan State University

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Source: Futurity