Following the recommendations of the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Services for Families with Infants and Toddlers in 1994, the Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF) designed Early Head Start as a two-generation program to enhance children’s development and health, strengthen family and community partnerships, and support the staff delivering new services to low-income families with pregnant women, infants, or toddlers. In 1995 and 1996, ACYF funded the first 143 programs, revised the Head Start Program Performance Standards to bring Early Head Start under the Head Start umbrella, created an ongoing national system of training and technical assistance (provided by the Early Head Start National Resource Center in coordination with ACYF’s regional offices and training centers), and began conducting regular program monitoring to ensure compliance with the performance standards. Today, the program operates in 664 communities and serves some 55,000 children.
At the same time, ACYF selected 17 programs from across the country to participate in a rigorous, large-scale, random-assignment evaluation. The Early Head Start evaluation was designed to carry out the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Services for Families with Infants and Toddlers for a strong research and evaluation component to support continuous improvement within the Early Head Start program and to meet the requirement in the 1994 and 1998 reauthorizations for a national evaluation of the new infant-toddler program. The research programs include all the major program approaches and are located in all regions of the country and in urban and rural settings. The families they serve are highly diverse. Their purposeful selection resulted in a research sample (17 programs and 3,001 families) that reflects the characteristics of all programs funded in 1995 and 1996, including their program approaches and family demographic characteristics.