Paper: ‘Reducing the effects of poverty through early childhood interventions’

Poverty and Inequality, Public Policy and Financing

AbstractKatherine Magnuson’s research focuses on the well-being and development of economically disadvantaged children and their families. In the first half of this brief Magnuson pulls together scholarship on the effects of poverty and inequality on children, especially from infancy to age five. Her scope goes beyond the social sciences to include new findings from neuroscience and developmental psychology that provide a new window into the mechanisms by which disadvantage may have lasting effects on children’s cognition, behavior, and life chances. The second half of the brief looks at what evaluation research suggests as to what works to lessen poverty’s negative influence on children. Magnuson examines two approaches, income support programs and early childhood interventions. Findings suggest that programs that “make work pay” by supplementing the income of low-wage parents of preschool-age children boost student achievement when they enter school. She suggests that the Child Tax Credit and the Supple- mental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are two other income support programs that could reasonably be considered to have similarly positive effects on children because they too augment families’ economic resources. Several early childhood interventions have also been shown to produce short-term and long-term benefits. Magnuson notes that the evidence supporting the effectiveness of high-quality, center-based early childhood education is strong, concluding that, in times of tight budgets when difficult funding decisions must be made, the research findings summarized in this brief imply that investing in policies and programs aimed at families with young children is a good use of restricted resources.

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