Kids who do not attend preschool are twice as likely to become career criminals, according to a report released this month by the nonprofit organization Fight Crime: Invest in Kids California.
The report, “Public Safety Can’t Wait: California’s Preschool Shortage,” found that preschool programs are beneficial to children in more ways than expected, citing that children who do not attend preschool are four times as likely to be arrested for drug use.
Whitney Scott, assistant professor for CSUN’s Child and Adolescent Development Department, said preschool is beneficial for kids, but more so for children of families of a lower socio-economic status, because these children do not receive as much attention and mental stimulation at home, Scott said.
“We always want an easy answer like, ‘Yes, preschool is good and beneficial,'” Scott said. “There are so many complex factors to take into account, such as socio-economic status.”
Socio-economic status depends on factors such as parents’ education level, household income, and the neighborhood the family lives in, Scott said.
The type of preschool a child attends can also factor into the child’s future behavior, said Cindy McGowan, professor of child and adolescent development. McGowan said there are benefits associated with attending preschool, but not just any preschool.
“It must be a high quality preschool,” McGowan said. “Sadly, the typical licensed preschool you may find in your community isn’t likely to be high quality.”
McGowan referred to a recent research study that found only 24 percent of preschool classrooms were deemed “quality settings.”
McGowan said she is angered with ads like those from the California First Five Commission, which claim kids will stay out of trouble and commit less crime if they go to any preschool.
“Nowhere do (the ads) mention the word quality,” McGowan said. “This may lead parents to think they’re helping their children when the preschool may actually do harm.”
But for low-income families, a good quality preschool usually means a costly tuition bill, a price they can’t afford.
Head Start, a federally funded child development program, was designed to serve low-income young children and their families — children who would otherwise not get the opportunity to receive any schooling until kindergarten.
“(Head Start) provide(s) not only educational services to the child, but health and social services to the child’s family,” McGowan said. “This type of program goes above and beyond what even a quality preschool program offers.”
Having worked for Head Start in the past, McGowan said that from her experiences, Head Start and programs like it are a success.
According to statistics from the Fight Crime: Invest in Kids California website, African American Head Start graduates were 12 percent less likely to be charged or convicted of crimes than their siblings who attended other preschool programs.
Similarly, a Florida study by the organization showed that girls who had not attended Head Start were three times more likely to have been arrested by age 22 than similar girls who had participated in Head Start.
Head Start is mainly offered to families with incomes below the poverty level. According to the California Head Start website, 70 percent of its participants were at the federal poverty level or below.
“Most people are too well-off to qualify for Head Start,” said Pat Ainsworth, the communications director for the National Institute for Early Education Research. Ainsworth said most people don’t make enough money to send their kids to a good preschool, but also make too much to qualify for federally funded programs like Head Start. He said this problem results in middle-class families getting stuck between a rock and a hard place.
“These are the people who are being underserved,” said Ainsworth. “They can’t afford to send their kids to preschool, so they keep them at home.”