What the research shows
Research shows that children from economically disadvantaged families can be up to two years behind in language development before they enter school when compared to their higher-income peers. This is due in part to the fact that children of low-income families hear as little as one-third the amount of words that children from higher-income families hear.
That equates to a 30-million word gap by the time the two groups of children are four years old. In 2009, a Department of Education study showed that half of Linn County low-income five-year-olds were not ready for kindergarten.
Why the RED Ahead program was created
In response, United Way of East Central Iowa organized a group of local early childhood experts to determine what gaps existed in the community that, if filled, could get children back on track. Together, they created the RED Ahead program.
RED Ahead (or Read Every Day to get Ahead) provides parents information and activities to help their young children develop the language skills they need to be ready for kindergarten. Based in two local Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) clinics run by the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program (HACAP), RED Ahead addresses the opportunity gap that exists for lower-income children. Modeling provides parents with the confidence to recreate the activities at home and the developmental screening provides parents tools to check if their child needs additional attention. RED Ahead then helps these parents get the services they need.
RED Ahead 2015 Progress
RED Ahead families made great progress in 2015. Below are highlights of the program and how it impacts families in Linn County:
- 6,770 books delivered to 2,867 children
- 2,024 families provided with developmental education and activities
- 475 children screened for developmental progress
- 58 children offered referrals to Early Access for assessment
- 109 children provided with specific activities to increase development
- More than 95% of RED Ahead parents have maintained or increased their knowledge of how their child is growing and developing, according to research conducted by Iowa State University.
Developmental screenings also show a strong growth in cognitive and early literacy skills, while demographic data shows that RED Ahead targets those most in need of assistance. Read the full impact report here.
RED Ahead also measures success by the stories families share as a part of their participation in the program, such as this mom’s story:
Recently, a mom and her four-year-old son visited RED Ahead. As they discussed her son’s language and development, she mentioned that before RED Ahead, her son wouldn’t even speak. She said that because of everything RED Ahead has done to help him, “Now, he won’t stop talking!”