Programs that Work
Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP)
Families increasing economic self-sufficiency
Age of Child
Early Childhood (0-8)
Type of Setting
Child Care / Preschool
Community-Based Service Provider
Health Care Provider
Type of Service
Health Care Services
Type of Outcome Addressed
Cognitive Development / School Performance
Poverty / Welfare
Evidence Level (What does this mean?)
In 1985, the State of Washington began developing statewide comprehensive early childhood education and assistance services to support the healthy development and success of children in low-income families or children who are otherwise at risk of school failure. Washington's Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) is administered by the Washington State Office of Community Development (OCD).
ECEAP is composed of four interactive components: education, health and nutrition, parent involvement, and family support. These components collectively identify problems that hinder learning; provide health screenings and immunizations for children; encourage parental involvement in the classroom and in the program itself through local parent-run policy councils; assess family needs and refer families to community resources; and provide adults with training to improve their parenting, leadership, and self-sufficiency skills.
ECEAP is a community-based, family-focused, comprehensive, pre-kindergarten program designed to help children and their families who are in poverty. The program focuses on helping three- and four-year-olds prepare for and succeed in school while helping their parents progress toward self-sufficiency.
ECEAP operates 260 program sites locally through 35 contractors, including school districts, educational services districts, local governments, nonprofits, childcare providers, and tribal organizations. Throughout the past 16 years, ECEAP has significantly increased the number of children it has served, from 1,000 served in 1986 to 7,879 served during the 2000-2001 program year. The program has served more than 90,000 children and families since its inception.
Eligible participants are children who are at least 3 years old and are not yet enrolled in kindergarten and whose families have been at or below 110 percent of the federal poverty level for the past 12 months. Priority is given to enrolling eligible 4-year-olds, though 3-year-olds can be served as space is available. Ten percent of program slots are available to children from over-income families who are at-risk of school failure for other reasons, such as developmental delays. About 50 percent of the participants are Caucasian, 29 percent are Hispanic, 13 percent are African-American, and the rest are split among various other ethnicities.
The Washington State Early Childhood Assistance Act of 1985 mandated an external evaluation of ECEAP. The Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory (NREL) conducted a longitudinal study from 1988 to 2000 to measure outcomes of enrolled children and families. The study examined ECEAP's effectiveness in preparing these children to achieve educational success, and later, to measure family well-being, changes in social status and family resources, and dependence on public assistance.
The longitudinal study completed 12 years of data collection and evaluation, in which it followed 1,358 children drawn from groups selected over three consecutive years beginning in 1988. A comparison group of 322 children who were eligible but not served by the program was also established. The comparison sample was not a random sample, but was composed of children in the same schools as ECEAP children who matched the ECEAP children on age, gender, ethnicity, primary language, and level of poverty. However, a much larger percentage of the ECEAP group was at or below the poverty level at the start of the study than was in the comparison group (95 percent versus 53 percent). In addition, the follow-up rate among the comparison group had been about 65 percent while the follow-up rate among the ECEAP participants had only been about 55 percent.
By 2000, evaluators felt that the longitudinal study was no longer providing significant information, and it was ended in favor of developing a yearly outcomes evaluation for enrolled children and families. The new study design is currently being developed and possible outcomes have been identified but not finalized.
Key Evaluation Findings
The Year 8 Longitudinal Study found that:
- The fraction of ECEAP families above the poverty level grew from 5 percent at enrollment to 47 percent. The fraction of control group families above the poverty level grew more modestly over the same period -- from 47 to 61 percent.
- Between enrollment and year 9 of the evaluation, the percent of ECEAP participants above the poverty level rose from 5 to 57 percent (a ten-fold increase). Over the same period, the growth in the percent above the poverty level was smaller for the comparison group (47 percent to 68 percent, a 44 percent increase).
School districts, local and state governments, nonprofit organizations, community health centers, childcare providers, community colleges, and tribal organizations.
Programs are encouraged to seek in-kind donations and other funding sources, but no specific target is required. State funds are to be used as a last resort. The program year 2000-2001 state general-fund budget was $30,053,699.
ECEAP is a "whole child," comprehensive, family-focused, pre-kindergarten program designed to help low-income children succeed in the educational system. The program also assists families in order to make them self-sufficient and able to help the children succeed. The program has four interactive components in each site:
- Education: ECEAP provides a learning environment for pre-kindergarten children that fosters intellectual, social, physical, and emotional growth. It identifies and intervenes early on to correct problems that might interfere with learning and that might prevent children from being successful when they enter the public school system. It is also designed to make the transition into kindergarten easier for children as well as to foster success throughout the children’s primary education. The program is offered for part of the year (for a minimum of 32 weeks out of the year) and is half-day. However, in many cases, it is integrated into childcare settings, so that the children are cared for during the whole day.
- Health and Nutrition: ECEAP provides health screenings for children within the first 90 days of program service. All medical, dental, mental, and nutritional needs are evaluated and brought up to date. If health problems are discovered, the family is referred to the appropriate community provider. ECEAP can also help identify community resources and provide services or funds if necessary. The ECEAP health staff assists with bringing immunizations up to date and with arranging for fluoride treatments in areas where the water is not fluoridated. All children also receive at least one complete meal each day in the classroom. The curriculum also includes nutritional education for children and parents in order to encourage healthy eating habits that last a lifetime.
- Parent Involvement: Parents are encouraged to participate in their children's learning by volunteering in the classroom as well as participating in decision-making through their local program's parent-run policy council. ECEAP also provides parent-skills training and support groups based on community need.
- Family Support: The program staff works with families to assess needs and help families locate and access community resources. In addition, the program provides opportunities for skill-development training in parenting, leadership, and self-sufficiency. Collaborative arrangements with various service providers and community organizations, along with in-kind donations from those groups, allow ECEAP staff to create a network of support for families.
The curriculum for the Washington State program is available from the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program office (see Contact Information).
The program is administered statewide and local programs operate through various organizations including school districts, local government agencies, nonprofit organizations, child care providers, and community colleges. Program staff, community leaders, and parents work together at each site to make sure that the programs offered are appropriate for the individual community.
Issues to Consider
This program received a "promising" rating based on the fact that there is only one study that has evaluated the program so far and the methodology used exhibits some weaknesses. The design was quasi-experimental, but the comparison group may have serious flaws. It is composed of children and families who chose to participate in the comparison group. In some cases, they had the option of participating in ECEAP; in other cases, they may not have had access to the program in their geographical area. Also, the treatment group had much higher rates of poverty at the start of the project than the comparison group. This may make the comparison families different as a group from the families who did participate. Furthermore, both the treatment and the comparison group exhibited relatively high attrition rates over the period of evaluation.
In addition, while the results of the study seem promising in that they do show improvement for the children and families who participated in the program, there also seems to be similar improvement in many areas for the families and children who were in the comparison group.
More than 260 sites throughout the state of Washington (see www.ocd.wa.gov/info for a list of sites)
For program information:
Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program
906 Columbia Street, SW
PO Box 48350
Olympia, WA 98504-8350
Phone: (360) 725-2830
For longitudinal study evaluation information:
Child and Family Program
Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory
101 SW Main Street, Suite 500
Portland, OR 97204
Phone: (503) 275-9551
Year 8 and Years 9 and 10 ECEAP Longitudinal Study Reports are available at www.ocd.wa.gov/infor. In addition, the ECEAP Web site at www.ocd.wa.gov/info/csd offers information on what the ECEAP is and how to effectively market a program, among other information. The curriculum is available by emailing ECEAP_Admin@cted.wa.gov.
An Investment in Children and Families: Year 8 Longitudinal Study Report
Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, Child and Family Program, December 1999.
An Investment in Children and Families: Years 9 & 10 Longitudinal Study Report, Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, Child and Family Program, December 2000.