Programs that Work
Syracuse Family Development Research Program
Healthy and Safe Children
Children Succeeding in School
Students performing at grade level or meeting state curriculum standards
Children and youth not engaging in violent behavior or displaying serious conduct problems
Age of Child
Early Childhood (0-8)
Type of Setting
Child Care / Preschool
Community-Based Service Provider
Type of Service
Type of Outcome Addressed
Cognitive Development / School Performance
Evidence Level (What does this mean?)
The Syracuse Family Development Research Program (FDRP) was a comprehensive early childhood program designed to improve child and family functioning through home visitation, parent training, and individualized day care. The program operated in a single site in Syracuse, New York, between 1969 and 1976, and has undergone long-term assessments of its effects on participants.
The FDRP provided a full range of education, nutrition, health and safety, and human services resources to participating families beginning prenatally and lasting until children reached elementary school age. The program targeted economically disadvantaged families in order to improve childrenís cognitive and emotional functioning, create a positive outlook among the children, and decrease juvenile delinquency.
Child Development Trainers (CDTs) visited each family weekly and focused on increasing family interaction, cohesiveness, and nurturing. In the Childrenís Center (for day care), infants were assigned to a caregiver for attention, cognitive and social games, sensorimotor activities, and language stimulation. The preschool program supported child-chosen opportunities for learning and peer interaction in a space-oriented framework, i.e., specific areas of the Center were designated for specific types of activities.
The FDRP targeted young, African-American, single-parent, low-income families. Mothers were in the last trimester of their first or second pregnancy.
Between 1969 and 1971, the FDRP recruited 108 families with incomes of less than $24,000 per year (in 2003 dollars) into the program in the last trimester of each motherís pregnancy. Mothers had less than a high school education and a history of either no paid work or semiskilled work. Their average age was 18 years, and more than 85 percent were heads of single-parent households. The majority of families served were African-American.
In 1982, Honig, Lally, and Mathieson assessed 37 FDRP students in kindergarten and 20 FDRP students in the first grade. Comparison group children were selected from each of the 15 schools in the city where FDRP students were enrolled. A comparison child was chosen for each FDRP child and was matched for age, sex, race, and socioeconomic status of the family, classroom, and teacher. Child social interactions in the classroom were assessed using the Emmerich Observer Ratings of Personal-Social Behaviors (during which the child was observed for a 20-minute period). In addition, children were assessed using Stanford-Binet IQ scores.
A 13-year longitudinal study by Lally, Mangione, and Honig (1988) followed the FDRP students into their teen years to assess the programís effects on school performance and juvenile delinquency. The sample consisted of 65 FDRP and 54 comparison group children. Data sources included school records, court records, and probation department records. School performance was assessed in each group by the number of failing grade-point averages, the number of students performing at a C-average grade or better, and the number of school absences. Results were examined separately for male and female students. Juvenile delinquency was determined by the number of children processed as probation cases by the County Probation Department and the severity of delinquent acts committed by offenders.
In addition, the results from the juvenile delinquency analysis were expanded by Aos, Barnoski, and Lieb (1998) and by Aos, Phipps, Barnoski, and Lieb (2001). These studies computed the prevalence rate (number of juveniles who offended) and incidence rate (number of offenses committed by those youths who offended at all) of crimes, and conducted a cost-benefit analysis of the FDRP.
Key Evaluation Findings
The kindergarten portion of the study by Honig, Lally, and Mathieson (1982) found that:
- FDRP children exhibited social-emotional functioning significantly superior to that of control children. As measured by the Emmerich Observer Ratings:
- FDRP children were more involved, relaxed, dominant, energetic, social, independent, purposeful, flexible, and affectionate to others than control children.
- Control group children were more restrained, self-centered, passive, unstable, timid, destructive, socially insecure, and unhappy than treatment children.
- Significantly more of the FDRP children than the comparison children attained an IQ score above 89.
- FDRP children continued to behave positively toward other children, but their behavior toward teachers had changed. FDRP children displayed significantly more positive and negative behavior toward adults than did comparison children, including:
- Positive and negative bids for attention, bossiness, physical aggressiveness toward adults and towards property, information-seeking behavior, and defiance in response to frustration or threats.
- Compared with FDRP children, the comparison group children more frequently expressed criticism of adults and other children, smiled and/or laughed, and made aggressive threats towards other children.
- By the eighth grade, 0 percent of the FDRP females had a failing average in school compared with 16 percent of comparison group females.
- By the eighth grade, 76 percent of the FDRP females versus 47 percent of comparison group females were performing at a C average or better.
- School attendance data over four years showed no significant differences between treatment and control group females for the first two years. By year three, 14 percent of the FDRP females versus 50 percent of the comparison group females had more than 20 school absences during the previous year, and by year four, 0 percent of the FDRP females versus 31 percent of the comparison group females had more than 20 school absences.
- No significant differences appeared between males in the FDRP and comparison groups.
- Significantly more comparison children (three) than FDRP children (zero) committed violent crimes.
- Significantly fewer FDRP children (6 percent) as compared with control children (22 percent) were processed as probation cases.
- Of the four FDRP children with probation records, three were charged with simple unruliness, and one was charged with one-time juvenile delinquency.
- Of the 12 comparison group children with probation records, five were chronic offenders. Charges included acts of unruliness, delinquency, mischief, larceny, burglary, robbery, physical assault, and sexual assault.
- The total criminal justice system costs for the FDRP delinquency cases was $12,111 versus $107,192 for the comparison group children. In other words, the total cost of crimes per FDRP child (n = 65) was $186, and the total cost of crimes per comparison group child (n = 54) was $1,985.
- The FDRP children had a significantly lower prevalence rate of crimes than the comparison group children, i.e., the number of youths who committed any crimes was lower in the FDRP group than in the comparison group.
- No significant differences were found between the groups for the incidence rate of crimes, i.e., there was no difference in the number of offenses committed by the youths who committed any crimes at all.
Public and private child care programs and elementary schools
The project was federally funded through the Office of Child Development under a U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare grant.
During weekly home visits, CDTs taught parents ways to nurture child development and play games during daily routines. CDTs offered positive support to mothers, and helped families to deal with emotional, social, financial, and nutritional problems. The CDTs served as liaisons between the family and community support services, and helped families identify and use such services on their own. In addition, a library of toys and books was created and shared with families. Each CDT visited 15 families each week.
The Children's Center served children from all parts of the city, and children were picked up by a bus driver each morning and delivered home in the afternoon. Infants six months to 15 months of age were cared for in an "Infant-Fold" area in the Children's Center five half-days per week. Four infants were assigned to each caregiver, and caregivers worked in pairs, with a group size limited to eight infants.
Babies from 15 to 18 months of age were placed in a special transition group with full-day care five days a week. Self-feeding was encouraged, and larger play spaces with sliding cabinets encouraged the toddlers' autonomy and freer choice of materials. Caregivers continued to provide these babies with comforting and emotional support.
Children from 18 to 60 months of age spent their days in a family-style environment, with freedom of choice and access to the four major areas of the Children's Center: "large muscle," "small muscle," "sense perceptions," and "creative expression/snack." Additionally, the children had a large variety of wheeled toys and equipment in a large gymnasium, and use of an enclosed outdoor play area.
The mother, rather than the child, was the focus of the CDT's attention and teaching during home visits. The CDTs taught families sensorimotor games, language interactions, and learning tasks appropriate to each child's developmental level. They also provided nutrition information, helped parents learn how to engage their children in cognitive and language activities, and helped mothers observe their child's development and adapt games to the appropriate level. In addition, CDTs offered positive support and encouragement to mothers, actively helped the parents to fulfill their personal aspirations, and encouraged parents to take an active role in their children's classroom at school.
Caregivers in the Children's Center employed creative methods to incorporate sensorimotor games, fine and gross motor activities, sensory stimulation and activities, and language and book experiences in children' daily activities. Activities were modified to appropriately match each child's need.
The caregivers worked to maintain positive relationships with parents. Parents were made to feel welcome when they visited their children at play or came to share lunch with a preschool group. Caregivers prepared a daily "Memo to Mommy" that was safety-pinned to each child's clothing and contained messages highlighting the child's newly formed skills, friendships the child had made, and other such positive developments.
A two-week intensive training session was provided every fall for all staff, including caregivers, child development trainers, researchers, testers, secretarial staff, the cook, bus drivers, and driver aides. These sessions were used for staff motivation, for refining the staff's child-observation skills, and to teach staff about child development processes such as sensorimotor and preoperational activities.
Throughout the year, weekly staff meetings were held to discuss the progress, problems, and strengths of a particular child. In addition, daily learning sessions for staff were scheduled during children's naptime. These short sessions at naptime permitted staff to generate or to share their own innovative curricular ideas or to construct learning games based on ideas suggested during training sessions.
Weekly case conferences were held among caregivers, child development trainers, and supervisory staff to report on and discuss work with participating families. Goals for the children were reviewed, and discussions were conducted on how to best achieve these goals.
Issues to Consider
This program received a "promising" rating. While results indicated superior school performance for FDRP female participants, male students did not show any lasting program effects. Significantly fewer FDRP youths than comparison group youths committed acts of juvenile delinquency, but the FDRP reduced the number of violent crimes committed by participants by an amount that was only marginally significant.
Another key issue to consider is the result of a cost analysis of the program. Aos, Barnoski, and Liebís (1998) cost-benefit analysis of the FDRP calculated that in 1997 dollars:
- The cost of the program per participant was $18,037.
- The total criminal justice costs avoided per participant was $3,953.
- The total crime victim costs avoided was $3,842.
- The total net cost to taxpayers per FDRP participant was ($18,037 - $3,953 - $3,842) = $10,242.
Syracuse, New York
Dr. Alice S. Honig
Professor Emerita of Child Development
Syracuse Family Development Research Program (FDRP)
202 Slocum Hall
Syracuse, NY 13244
Ph: (315) 443-4296
Fax: (315) 443-9402
For training, technical assistance, and materials, contact Dr. Alice Honig at FDRP.
Aos, Steve, P. Phipps, Robert Barnoski, and Roxanne Lieb,
The Comparative Costs and Benefits of Programs to Reduce Crime: Version 4.0,
Olympia, Washington: Washington State Institute for Public Policy, 2001.
Aos, Steve, Robert Barnoski, and Roxanne Lieb, Watching the Bottom Line: Cost-Effective Interventions for Reducing Crime in Washington, Olympia, Washington: Washington State Institute for Public Policy, 1998.
Honig, Alice S., J. Ronald Lally, and Deborah H. Mathieson, "Personal and Social Adjustment of School Children after Five Years in the Family Development Research Program," Child Care Quarterly, Vol. 11, No. 2, 1982, pp. 136-146.
Lally, J. Ronald, Peter L. Mangione, and Alice S. Honig, "The Syracuse University Family Development Research Program: Long-Range Impact on an Early Intervention with Low-Income Children and Their Families," in D. R. Powell and I. E. Sigel (eds.), Parent Education as Early Childhood Intervention: Emerging Direction in Theory, Research, and Practice. Annual Advances in Applied Developmental Psychology, Volume 3, Norwood, N.J.: Ablex Publishing Corporation, 1988.