Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review

, Volume 21, Issue 4, pp 527–544 | Cite as

The Abecedarian Approach to Social, Educational, and Health Disparities

  • Craig T. RameyEmail author


This paper places the Abecedarian Approach in theoretical and historical context and reviews the results from three randomized controlled trials that have tested an experimental protocol designed to prevent cognitive disabilities and their social consequences. Results affirm that cognitive disabilities can be prevented in early childhood and subsequent academic achievement enhanced via a multipronged comprehensive approach that contains individualized and responsive early childhood education starting in early infancy, coupled with pediatric health care, good nutrition, and family-oriented social services. Additional important findings reveal that the most vulnerable children benefited the most and that cognitive gains were not at the expense of children’s socioemotional development or relationship to family. In general, mothers derived benefits in education and employment and teenage mothers especially benefited from their children participating in the early education treatment group. On the whole, the overall pattern of results supports a multidisciplinary, individualized, and long-term longitudinal perspective on human development and prevention science. Recent structural and functional brain imaging in the fifth decade of life shows persistent effects of intensive early educational treatment. Independent recent cost–benefit analysis in adulthood reveals a 7.3:1 return on investment with a 13.7% average annual rate of return. The paper concludes with a discussion of implications of the Abecedarian Approach to today’s high-risk population in the USA


Early development Early childhood education Disparities Prevention Conceptual framework 



This program of research has been supported by grants from: The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, The US Department of Education, The Administration on Children, Youth, and Families, The Maternal and Child Health Bureau, The National Institute of Mental Health, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

No conflict exists.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in this program of research involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Distinguished Research Scholar, Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, Professor of Psychology, Neuroscience, Human Development, and PediatricsVirginia Tech, VTCRIRoanokeUSA

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