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Study Says Early Home Visits Show School Benefits

Children whose families took part in a home-visiting program in their earliest years showed some positive benefits once they enrolled in school, compared with their peers who did not receive home visits, according to a recently-released study from Healthy Families New York, a home visitation program that enrolls about 5,600 families each year.

This study is the latest report on a group of more than 1,100 families who have been monitored since 2000, and focuses on 1st-grade school records of the children. Among the results: Children in the home-visited group were half as likely to repeat a grade as children who did not receive home visits (3.54 percent compared to 7.10 percent). Also, a higher percentage of children in the home-visited group excelled on three behaviors that promote learning (13.15 percent compared to 7.74 percent). Those behaviors were defined as working and playing cooperatively; following oral directions or classroom rules; and completing homework and class work on time. Information on report cards was captured so differently between districts that the researchers weren't able to track other behaviors.

The study did not find statistically significant effects for excelling academically overall, excelling in reading and math, performing poorly overall, or doing poorly in reading and math, though the pattern of results favored the children in the home- visiting program.

Girls in the home-visiting group were more likely to excel academically (32.62 percent vs. 17.47 percent) and less likely to do poorly academically (19.71 percent vs. 32.17 percent).

Kristen Kirkland, a research scientist with the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, the lead partner in Healthy Families New York, said that this is a new area of study. "We were excited to see some of these school findings," she said. "We were hoping we would see some of these positive effects, but we weren't sure."

The reduced retention rate was particularly noteworthy, as was the effect home visiting had on classroom behaviors, Kirkland said. "These are the skills that children really need when they start school," she said.

The New York agency enrolls at-risk expectant parents and new mothers throughout the state, sending workers visiting as often as once a week during infancy and then progressively less often until the child enrolls in Head Start or kindergarten. Parents are taught about child development and given lessons in such skills as responding to a baby's cues and reducing stress. The funding for this study came from the Pew Center on the States, which has a home-visiting initiative. Pew has also put together a map of home-visiting programs around the country.

This won't be the last time Healthy Families New York reports on these children. Kirkland said that the agency plans a follow-up report in a few years, when the children are about 15 years old.

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