Purpose: The effectiveness of community-wide initiatives is difficult to assess, yet has tremendous implications for policy and practice. The Cuyahoga County Early Childhood Initiative is a three-year public/private collaborative effort to improve early intervention and supportive services to young children. The initiative includes home visiting for new mothers and intensive services for at-risk families, high quality home-based child care and improved care for children with special needs, and expansion of government health coverage for low-income children. The overall goal is to enhance the well being of young children and their families in the metropolitan area.
Methods: The evaluation uses multiple methods tailored to the individual program components, including longitudinal studies of selected samples of families in their homes; surveys of parents and service providers; qualitative interviews with key informants; observations of service quality; linkage and analysis of electronic administrative datasets; and calculation of population-based, local social indicators. Multiple data sources and methods are combined to craft an overall picture of how each component of the initiative is working and how all of the parts connect to one another.
Results: In its first three years the ECI programs were taken to scale and woven into the fabric of the local service system. Early data suggests that the programs are producing the intended positive measurable changes in the community. The ongoing emphasis of the initiative is to continue to enhance the quality of those services, assess how they could be improved, and increase awareness of the initiative.
Implications: This symposium reports on the evaluation of an initiative that is unique in its formulation yet is still relevant to a broad range of similar efforts underway around the U.S. The evaluation of such comprehensive community initiatives is relevant to the work of a broad range of social work research and practice professionals.