Among mattresses lining the living room floor, a mother of two—recently evicted and living with a friend—shares her parenting story with a CYFS data collection team.
Her story is one of many that will guide an evaluation of the Superintendents’ Early Childhood Plan, launched last year by the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska to close achievement gaps for at-risk children in the Omaha metropolitan area.
Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools project manager Dawn Davis is leading the evaluation of the project’s first component, which provides home visitation support for families with children from birth to 3. Data collection happens where families are — sometimes in living rooms, sometimes in the aftermath of stressful situations and often in the midst of busy schedules.
One of the goals of the evaluation is to give families a voice, one that will guide program implementation. Data collection began in June and will continue as children transition into preschool and elementary school.
“We have many families who have a lot of things going on in their life, but (the program) is important to them and they make time for it,” Davis said. “For the evaluation, we talked to (families) about capturing their stories and experiences so that we can share them with others.”
To capture these stories, the CYFS team is accompanying home visitors to collect data on 150 children and their parents. Davis and her colleagues will evaluate children’s social-emotional and cognitive development, and their relationship with their parents. The team will also evaluate parents’ stress factors, available resources and relationships with home visitors and schools. Using videotaped sessions, a third evaluation will determine the quality of home visitations—for example, the types of questions asked by home visitors or the resources they provide to families.
Davis is coordinating evaluation measures with the Interdisciplinary Center for Program Evaluation of the Munroe Meyer Institute at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, which will evaluate children in preschool through third grade.
The teams are working together to create overlapping measures and link data from birth to third grade. Their evaluation will guide program improvement and measure impact, both now and in the future, as children progress through the program. It will also provide valuable feedback for teachers, principals, policymakers and other community stakeholders.
“We want to look at the cumulative impact of a family’s involvement in the project,” Davis said. “If we continue to support children and families in a way that is consistent across transitions, hopefully it will result in a permanent closure of the (achievement) gap.”
The CYFS research team includes Lisa Knoche, research associate professor and director of the Nebraska Early Childhood Research Academy, and Greg Welch, research associate professor and director of the Bureau of Education Research, Evaluation and Policy. Lori Chleborad, CYFS project coordinator, is managing the project’s data collection team.