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The Abecedarian Intervention Project

The Abededarian Intervention Project, inspired by the Perry Preschool Project, illustrated how early intervention is critical in countering the environmental ramifications present in at-risk communities. Providing children from low-income areas with a solid early childhood educational foundation allowed them to reach significantly higher levels of economic and academic achievement compared to other children with similar socio-economic backgrounds. This study demonstrates how early intervention has the ability to offset environmental consequences.

The Abecedarian Intervention was a longitudinal study undertaken by the University of North Carolina’s FPG Child Development Institute. The ultimate goal was to gauge whether early intervention could reduce the environmental circumstances that lead children in poverty to grow up to be adults with more threats to their mental health, greater rates of crime, and continued poverty.  Researchers hypothesized that a poor educational foundation in early childhood could in part account for the psychological distress, unemployment, crime, and familial instability suffered by those in low-income environments. They proposed that by providing children form high-risk environments with well-structured daycare, the children’s overall wellbeing would improve markedly. 

Experimental Method:
Between the years of 1972 and 1977 the program enrolled a total of 111 infants randomly assigned to either the control group, where no early intervention was administered, or the experimental group, where an educational foundation was provided. For those in the experimental group the Abecedarian Project supplied full-day, year-round, center-based care for children from infancy until the age of five. The curriculum provided to the experimental group emphasized play-based education, with a focus on language and cognitive development. Additionally, mothers in the experimental condition were provided with services such as periodic meetings with educators on how to reinforce learning at home. The children in the control group and their parents were left to their own resources to find preschools, and many of these children ultimately drifted through a number of programs. All of the children who participated were at high risk for poor cognitive and academic outcomes due to their environmental circumstances.

Abecedarian Intervention ProjectResults:
During and following the study, periodic developmental assessments were administered at the ages of three, five, twelve, fifteen, and twenty-one to both groups. When the participants reached the age of twenty-one, 36% of those who graduated from the early intervention program were enrolled in a four-year college, compared to 14% in the control group. Other critical improvements were found in reduced crime rates and incidences of drug use, higher-income forms of employment, and decreased occurrences of teen pregnancy. A mental health screening at the final follow-up determined a significant decline in the incidence of depression for those who received early-intervention.

Abecedarian Intervention ProjectInferences:

The marked decrease in depression rates for the participants in the experimental condition affirms the importance of early intervention in early childhood education. These statistics show that high quality, comprehensive early intervention has the ability to offset the negative environmental factors that later contribute to higher rates of depression in those from low-income communities. Furthermore, the data collected replicated many of the findings found in the High/Scope Perry Preschool Project, with better academic and economic achievement, reduced crime and drug use, and increased familial stability. This study once again affirms the power of early intervention in its potential to produce long-term benefits. Overall, the Abecedarian Project evidences that providing at risk children with quality education services from infancy until five years of age is of tangible benefit to their overall wellbeing.

Sources Cited:
"Can Childcare Impact Risk for Depression?" FPG Snapshot 46  (2007).Web. <http://www.fpg.unc.edu/~snapshots/snap46.pdf>

“Early Learning, Later Success: The Abecedarian Study.” Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center (1999). Web. <http://www.fpg.unc.edu/~abc/ells-04.pdf>

For more information, please visit http://www.fpg.unc.edu/%7Eabc/

— Prepared by Ashlin Orr, Kinder Institute Intern, 2011-12.