We present the results of a cluster-randomized controlled trial that evaluates the effects of a free, center-based parenting intervention on early cognitive development and parenting practices in 100 rural villages in China. We then compare these effects to a home-based intervention conducted in the same region, using the same parenting curriculum and public service system. We find that the center-based intervention significantly improved children’s cognitive skills by 0.11 standard deviations, accompanied by increases in the material investments, time investments, and parenting skills of caregivers. The average impact of the center-based intervention, however, was approximately half that of the home-visiting intervention. Analysis of the possible mechanisms suggests that the difference in effects was driven primarily by different patterns of compliance. Although children with lower levels of initial skills at baseline benefited the most from the center-based intervention, they were less likely to participate in the program.
Keywords: Center-based parenting intervention; home-based parenting intervention; early cognitive development; randomized controlled trial; program participation