In a new working paper HCEO Co-director James J. Heckman and co-authors analyze a randomized control trial of the widely-known Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) program that took place in Memphis in 1990. The program provided home visits with nurses to disadvantaged, first-time mothers from pregnancy until two years after birth. NFP aimed to improve the long-term success of disadvantaged children "by promoting healthy maternal behaviors and by fostering parenting skills." This paper evaluates the impact through age 12.

Heckman, who co-authored the paper with Kevin K. Makino and ECI network members Margaret L. Holland, Rodrigo Pinto, and Maria Rosales-Rueda, find positive long- and short-term effects for both mothers and their children. The program was found to have statistically significant treatment effects on home environments, parenting attitudes, and maternal mental health for parents at age 2. Boys and girls had improved cognitive skills at age 6, with enhanced early socio-emotional skills for girls. Treatment effects for males persist through age 12, 40 to 60 percent of which can be explained by enhanced cognitive skills measured at age 6. Boys also had improved infant birth weight, which might be explained by the effects on cognitive skills.

This paper is the most rigorous study of the NFP program to date. The researchers accounted for the NFP randomization protocol, controlled for multiple-hypothesis testing, and examined the mechanisms underlying the treatment effects.

The findings could have far-reaching implications. As the paper notes, NFP program surrogates currently operate in 43 states across the country and have provided service to more than 200,000 families since 1996.

Heckman's findings show positive effects on parenting practices and the home environment. "We find that program-induced improvements in maternal mental health (reduction in maternal anxiety and improvement on mastery/self-control) and program-induced enhancement of parenting skills are strong channels underlying program effects on children’s skills," the authors write. "We show that parenting matters."

You can read "An Analysis of the Memphis Nurse-Family Partnership Program" here.