Effects of Child Development Accounts on Early Social-Emotional Development: An Experimental Test | Child Development | JAMA Pediatrics | JAMA Network
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Original Investigation
March 2014

Effects of Child Development Accounts on Early Social-Emotional Development: An Experimental Test

Author Affiliations
  • 1School of Social Work, College for Public Health and Social Justice, Saint Louis University, St Louis, Missouri
  • 2Center for Social Development, Washington University in St Louis, St Louis, Missouri
  • 3School of Social Work, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond
JAMA Pediatr. 2014;168(3):265-271. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.4643

Importance  This study, based on Oklahoma’s statewide Child Development Accounts (CDAs) program, presents findings from the first experimental test of the hypothesis that creating lifelong savings accounts for children at birth promotes their long-term well-being.

Objective  To examine the effects of CDAs, an innovative social policy to encourage lifelong saving and asset building for long-term development, on parent-reported social-emotional development in early childhood.

Design, Setting, and Participants  A statewide randomized experiment of CDAs was conducted in 2008, drawing a probability sample of 7328 children from all infants born in two 3-month periods in Oklahoma (April 1 through June 30 and August 1 through October 31, 2007). After agreeing to participate in the experiment, caregivers of 2704 infants completed a baseline survey and were randomly assigned to treatment (n = 1358) and control groups (n = 1346). Approximately 84% of participants completed a follow-up survey in the spring of 2011.

Interventions  The intervention offered CDAs, built on the existing Oklahoma 529 college-savings plan, to treatment participants. It also provided additional financial incentives and information.

Main Outcomes and Measures  The primary outcome—child social-emotional development—is measured by scores from a 17-item version of the Ages and Stages Questionnaire: Social-Emotional. Caregivers completed it in the 3-year follow-up survey. Lower scores indicate better functioning.

Results  The CDAs have positive effects on social-emotional development for children at approximately age 4 years. The nonweighted treatment-control difference is –1.56 (90% CI, −2.87 to −0.22; P = .06), but the weighted difference is nonsignificant. The effects appear to be greater for disadvantaged subsamples, such as low-income households (weighted mean difference, –2.21; 90% CI, −4.01 to −0.42; P = .04).

Conclusions and Relevance  As a complement to other early education and health interventions, CDAs may improve social-emotional development in early childhood. Their effects may be explained as a mediating process that influences parents. Child Development Accounts may influence parental attitudes, behaviors, expectations, and involvement; in turn, these may affect child development.