OBJECTIVE:

To evaluate the extent to which a home-visitation program (Early Start) had benefits for child abuse, child behavior, and parental- and family-level benefits to the 9-year follow-up.

METHODS:

A randomized controlled trial in which 220 families receiving Early Start were contrasted with a control series of 223 families not receiving the program. Families were enrolled in the program for up to 5 years. Outcomes were assessed at 6 months, annually from 1 year to 6 years, and at 9 years after trial entry.

RESULTS:

Comparisons between the Early Start and control series showed that families in the Early Start program showed significant (P < .05) benefits in reduced risk of hospital attendance for unintentional injury, lower risk of parent-reported harsh punishment, lower levels of physical punishment, higher parenting competence scores, and more positive child behavioral adjustment scores. Effect sizes (Cohen’s “d”) ranged from 0.13 to 0.29 (median = 0.25). There were no significant differences (all P values > .05) between the Early Start and control series on a range of measures of parental behavior and family outcomes, including maternal depression, parental substance use, intimate partner violence, adverse economic outcomes, and life stress.

CONCLUSIONS:

The Early Start program was associated with small to moderate benefits in a range of areas relating to child abuse, physical punishment, child behavior, and parenting competence. There was little evidence to suggest that the Early Start program had benefits that extended to the level of parents or family overall.

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