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Parent Child Development Center

Ages 0-3

Rating: Level 1


Designed to foster relationships between parents and children, the Parent Child Development Center targets low-income families in which mothers are the primary caregivers and children are ages 2 months to 3 years. The program offers a broad range of support services for both mothers and children. For example, mothers are educated in socioemotional, intellectual, and physical aspects of infant and child development through practical experiences and group discussions with staff and other mothers. Caregiver development is promoted through training in home management and exposure to community resources and continuing education classes. The needs of the entire family are addressed by providing transportation to services, some meals, health and social services, programs for siblings, and small stipends for participants. In addition, the intervention provides activities for children and structured play sessions for mothers and children that are videotaped and analyzed to improve families’ communication and interaction skills.


This program was evaluated in three separate studies in Birmingham, Ala; Houston, Texas; and New Orleans, La. These studies used an experimental design with untreated nonequivalent control groups with pretest and posttest measures. Unfortunately, the evaluations to date have been limited by high attrition rates.

The most comprehensive evaluation was performed on the Houston Parent Child Development Center. Low-income Mexican-American families with a healthy 1-year-old child were randomly assigned to the treatment group (n=90) or a control group (n=201). Data were collected at assignment and then a follow-up was conducted once the child was in the second through fifth grades. Fifty-six percent of the sample remained through follow-up. The gender split was roughly 50:50. To be included in the follow-up data collection, the treatment group had to have completed the 2-year program.


The evaluation of the Houston program resulted in significantly better scores for treatment youths on verbal scales, though not on arithmetic or spelling. Control group students were rated as significantly more hostile than program youths. There were no differences between the treatment group and the control group as far as overall grades or the number of teacher-reported contacts with parents during the school year. Treatment youths did seem to do better in school regarding retention in grade and referral to special resources.

The other evaluations revealed that program children from birth to 36 months showed increases in IQ and cognitive ability and more positive interactions between program mothers and children. In the Birmingham program, there were increases in children’s school achievement in grades 2 and 3 and improvements in mothers’ positive control techniques, including discipline. In Houston, there were improvements in mothers’ use of affection, praise, criticism, and restrictive control; less destructive negative behavior for children ages 4–7; and less impulsive, obstinate, disruptive, and hostile behavior for children ages 8–10. In the New Orleans program, case mothers showed more positive language, more effective teaching skills, increased sensitivity, and less use of restrictive, critical, and scolding language.

Risk Factors


  • Cognitive and neurological deficits/Low intelligence quotient/Hyperactivity
  • Early onset of aggression and/or violence
  • Mental disorder/Mental health problem/Conduct disorder


  • Family management problems/Poor parental supervision and/or monitoring
  • Parental use of physical punishment/Harsh and/or erratic discipline practices
  • Poor family attachment/Bonding


  • Low academic achievement


  • Economic deprivation/Poverty/Residence in a disadvantaged neighborhood

Protective Factors


  • Healthy / Conventional beliefs and clear standards


  • Effective parenting
  • Good relationships with parents / Bonding or attachment to family
  • Having a stable family
  • High expectations
  • Opportunities for prosocial family involvement
  • Rewards for prosocial family involvement


  • Above average academic achievement / Reading and math skills
  • Strong school motivation / Positive attitude toward school


  • OJJDP: Blueprints
  • NIJ: What Works
  • HHS: Surgeon General


Bridgeman, Brent ; Janet B. Blumental; and Susan R. Andrews. 1981. Parent Child Development Center: Final Evaluation Report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Human Development Services.

Johnson, Dale L., and James N. Breckenridge. 1982. “The Houston Parent–Child Development Center and the Primary Prevention of Behavior Problems in Young Children.” American Journal of Community Psychology 10:305–16.

Johnson, Dale L., and Todd Walker. 1987. “Primary Prevention of Behavior Problems in Mexican-American Children.” American Journal of Community Psychology 15:375–85.

———. 1991. “A Follow-Up Evaluation of the Houston Parent–Child Development Center: School Performance.” Journal of Early Intervention 15(3):226–36.


Dale L. Johnson
Houston Parent Child Development Center
831 Witt Road
Taos, NM 87571
Phone: (505) 758-7962
Web site: