Science tells us that unrelenting negative experiences — toxic stress — in early childhood affect a developing brain in ways that can herald lifelong learning and behavior problems. Conversely, research also shows that a stable, nurturing environment stimulates children’s brains in positive ways, priming them for better outcomes in life. Effective intervention can help mitigate or prevent those negative experiences and pave the way for healthy development.

In North Carolina, a promising program is working with vulnerable young children and caregivers by providing intensive, home-based services. Called Child First, the program provides support for adults and children together in their homes and connects them to the services they need. The goal is to stabilize families, help them build nurturing relationships, and improve the health and well-being of both caregivers and children.

With a $700,000 grant awarded in 2018, The Duke Endowment is supporting a randomized controlled trial of Child First in eastern North Carolina. Arnold Ventures, a philanthropic organization based in Houston, is providing additional support, including funding to study the program in Connecticut. MDRC is conducting the research in both states.

In the interview below, Meghan McCormick, an MDRC research associate who is directing the studies, explains more about evaluating this promising home visiting model and about finding a silver lining in COVID-19.

Meghan McCormick: Involvement in child protective services and dealing with the need for early intervention due to language delays and behavioral disorders is very expensive, so there’s a huge policy interest in trying to implement preventive interventions that can promote more positive outcomes.

By demonstrating positive impacts, we can help Child First become one of those well-supported programs. Increased federal funding will allow more families to access its services.

Read the full interview about child home visiting with Meghan McCormick at MDRC.