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Strengthening Benefit-Cost Analysis for Early Childhood Interventions: Workshop Summary
to invest public funds in them. In a climate of economic uncertainty and tight budgets, however, hard evidence not only that such interventions provide lasting benefits for children, their families, and society, but also that the benefits translate into savings that outweigh the costs is an extremely important asset in policy discussions. Convincing analysis of benefits and costs would provide a guide to the best ways to spend scarce resources for early childhood programs. Methods for conducting the benefit-cost analysis that can provide this kind of evidence are complex in the context of early childhood, even as researchers are developing new approaches. The purpose of the workshop this report documents was to explore ways to strengthen benefit-cost analysis so it can be used to support effective policy decisions.
With the support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Board on Children, Youth, and Families held the workshop in March 2009 to examine strategies for strengthening the methodology for evaluating the benefits and costs of early childhood interventions. An ad hoc committee, formed to plan the workshop, was asked to explore the following questions:
What state-of-the art examples of benefit-cost methodology can be drawn from evaluation of diverse early childhood interventions, such as home visitation programs; child care programs; Head Start; the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children; Bright Beginnings; Healthy Steps; low-birthweight studies; immunization and vaccine studies; Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program; and other areas? How are benefits and costs for children identified and assessed in each program area? Are there particularly influential benefit and cost assumptions that seem important and worthy of standardizing in determining the value of selected interventions?
How does the status of benefit-cost methodology in the field of early childhood interventions compare with studies of other vulnerable populations, such as those experiments used in assessing the impact of housing subsidies (such as Moving to Opportunities), income assistance programs (such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), and related activities?
What is known about the influences of scaling up early childhood health and educational programs on both costs and benefits?
What has been the experience with assigning a dollar (shadow) value to long-term impacts on nonmonetary outcomes like crime, health, etc.? What assumptions influence this practice and are they sensitive to specific characteristics of the populations served by selected programs?