In 2003 and 2004, a team of researchers implemented a year-long social and emotional learning (SEL) intervention with 192 children within 22 classrooms within 12 Head Start programs. This intervention, called Head Start REDI, was an integration of PATHS, which is a well-known SEL intervention, and a daily interactive reading program using books aligned with PATHS’ social and emotional themes. Teachers in the intervention group received a four-day training and weekly mentoring. An additional 164 children within 22 classrooms within 13 Head Start programs served as a control group.
Karen Bierman and her team followed these children after 8 to 10 years to estimate the long-term effects of the intervention. Among the original 356 children, 281 children (81%) were reassessed in this study. Children who were 4 years old at the time of intervention were in grades 7 and 9 when they were assessed again. The researchers found that children who participated in Head Start REDI displayed significantly lower levels of conduct problems (ES = -0.20) and emotional symptoms (ES= -0.25) than the control group. However, the two groups did not demonstrate significant differences in hyperactivity/inattention or peer problems.
It is important to note that the findings need to be interpreted with caution because of the substantial loss of students over time. Only 78% of children in the intervention group (144 children), and 88% of children in the control group (145 children) were retained, showing considerable differences in the attrition rates between the two groups. However, the intervention and control groups did not have significant differences in the outcome measures or demographic characteristics when they were first assessed at age 4, and the children who dropped out and who remained in the study showed no meaningful differences, except for race/ethnicity. Altogether, with reservations, this study provides evidence that a high-quality and high-dosage SEL intervention in preschool years can potentially have long-lasting effects through children’s early adolescence.
Bierman, K. L., Heinrichs, B.S., Welsh, J.A., & Nix, R. L. (2021). Reducing adolescent psychopathology in socioeconomically disadvantaged children with a preschool intervention: A randomized controlled trial. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 178(4), 305-312.