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Wake Forest Team To Test Effectiveness of National Program Aimed at Head Start Families

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – How effective is a new national program that aims to prevent substance abuse and other risky behaviors in Head Start families with pre-school children by strengthening families and communities? That''s the question that researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine and four other institutions hope to answer. They will conduct a comprehensive independent evaluation of the national program, called Free to Grow: Head Start Partnerships to Promote Substance-free Communities.

Mark Wolfson, Ph.D., is the principal investigator for the national evaluation team. "What we can do is shed light on what works and what doesn''t work," he said.

The evaluation, which will extend through May 2006, is being paid for by $4 million in grants from The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and another $1 million from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Free to Grow involves 15 local Head Start agencies in communities across the country that are working with law enforcement agencies, schools and other local partners. The program is supposed to result in prevented, reduced or delayed substance abuse and child abuse or neglect among families with young children.

The evaluation will compare the 15 Free to Grow Head Start agencies with 15 Head Start agencies and communities that are not participating in Free to Grow, said Wolfson, associate professor of public health sciences and director of the Center for Community Research at Wake Forest.

The evaluators will assess the impact of the program on community partnerships, neighborhoods and families, Wolfson said. "Free to Grow appears to have great potential for improving the lives of families with young children and their neighborhoods," he said. "Our goal in the evaluation is to assess the extent to which the program activity achieves these goals."

Among other questions to be answered are;

What factors are required to implement the Free to Grow model successfully?

What is the relationship between the way in which Free to Grow is implemented and partnership, neighborhood and family outcomes?

What family and community factors influence the impact of Free to Grow?

None of the sites is in Winston-Salem.

Wolfson''s team includes researchers from Winston-Salem State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of South Carolina and the Public Health Institute in Berkeley, Calif. as well as Robert DuRant, Ph.D., David Altman, Ph.D., Ralph D''Agostino Jr., Ph.D. and Kristie Long Foley, Ph.D. of the Wake Forest faculty.

Funding for the Free to Grow Sites is being provided by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and local matching funds.

Overall program direction of Free to Grow and technical assistance is being provided by the Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University.

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