Parent-Child Development Center Follow-up Project: Child Behavior Problem Results

Dale L. Johnson


J Prim Prev. 2006;27(4):391-407. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

The long-term effectiveness of the Parent-Child Development Centers (PCDCs) as programs to prevent behavior problems in children was examined with follow-up data collected 6-13 years after program completion. Data were collected for 581 children who had been in the programs with their mothers (Ns: Birmingham, 151; New Orleans, 186; Houston, 244). Mothers and teachers were interviewed. There were few significant differences between program and control groups. Only the early cohorts of the Houston program showed significant differences between groups on the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL).

Editors' Strategic Implications: This is a rare example of long-term longitudinal evaluation of a cross-site prevention program with a large sample size. Practitioners and program designers will be interested in the author's descriptions of cohort and site implementation differences. The absence of major effects at follow-up (despite significant short-term effects) in this well-designed study must caution us against thinking of early prevention programs as inoculations.

The Parent-Child Development Centers (PCDCs) were designed to be programs that would primarily prevent school failure in children of low-income families and secondarily enhance competence and prevent the development of behavior problems. The PCDCs were true primary prevention programs, selective type, owing to the low-income status of the families, and are among the few prevention programs that have begun in infancy and focused on parent-child interaction. One other program with some similarities is that developed by Lally and others (1988) in Syracuse. The program began when children were infants and continued for 5 years with home visits and a preschool experience. A matched control design was used. A 10-year follow-up found lower rates of delinquency in program children. Another program, by Olds and associates (1998), had nurses visit mothers at home prenatally and when their children were infants. A 15-year follow-up of this program found it had effects on some anti-social behaviors of the program infants as they became adolescents, but there were no group differences on Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) scores or teacher reports of acting out behaviors. Results were somewhat stronger for their low-socioeconomic status (SES) and unmarried mother group. A third program for low-birth-weight infants followed the children to age 8. No group differences appeared on the CBCL (McCarton et al., 1997).

The original three PCDCs, located in Birmingham, Houston, and New Orleans, were developed, training manuals were written, staff were trained, families enrolled, programs were implemented with several replications, and the programs were evaluated at the end of the programs and in a series of short-term follow-ups. The PCDCs existed as research and development centers from 1970 to 1978. They continue today as Parent Child Centers without research affiliations.

All of the programs attained most of their stated goals at the end of the program (Andrews et al., 1982) and short-term follow-up goals also showed promising results. The only published results of these follow-ups were for the Houston PCDC. These results showed positive effects on school performance and a reduction in the incidence of behavior problems in children in preschool years and 5-8 years after program completion (Johnson & Breckenridge, 1982; Johnson & Walker, 1987, 1991). A long-term follow-up of school achievement found significant effects for the Houston program, but not for the other two (Johnson & Blumenthal, 2004).

The structure and contents of the PCDCs were influenced by the first wave of compensatory education programs (Lazar, Royce, Murray, Snipper, & Darlington, 1982). The long-range evaluations of these programs have had a powerful impact on the development of other projects, even though their results were modest.

The main focus of the PCDCs was on the primary prevention of school failure. However, the Houston program included from the beginning a goal that child competence would be maximized and part of that was that the incidence of child behavior problems would be reduced as a function of program participation. The Birmingham and New Orleans program developers adopted these goals later, but while the programs were still active.

The PCDCs as a group had never been followed to explore whether the expected long-term effects on the development of child competence had actually occurred. The task was formidable with a larger number of children to be located than were available to the Consortium. This report describes the results of the follow-up venture.


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