Panel Paper: Supporting Immigrant Families' Access to Prekindergarten

Friday, November 7, 2014 : 10:15 AM
Enchantment Ballroom A (Hyatt)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Julia Gelatt1, Gina Adams2 and Sandra Huerta2, (1)Urban Institute, (2)The Urban Institute
Several jurisdictions across the United States are currently working to expand their public prekindergarten programs. Children of immigrants, who make up nearly a quarter of all children in the United States, and English Language Learners (ELLs) have disproportionately low rates of enrollment in early childhood education, including state prekindergarten programs.  Prior work has identified a number of barriers that immigrant families face in accessing early childhood education, but there is little information available to help state and local program directors overcome these barriers. Some localities with decades of experience serving immigrant families have built up expertise in designing outreach and enrollment assistance strategies to overcome these barriers and include immigrant families in prekindergarten programs, but many providers and policymakers in new immigrant destinations still struggle to locate immigrant families in their communities, encourage interest in available prekindergarten, and assist families in enrolling in the program.

Questions and Methods. In this project we ask: What promising practices do providers in new immigrant destinations currently use to increase children of immigrants’ enrollment in prekindergarten programs, and what promising practices could be adopted from traditional immigrant destinations? To answer this question, we conducted 40 phone interviews with local prekindergarten program directors, outreach specialists, English as a Second Language (ESL) specialists, state prekindergarten directors, directors of other early childhood education programs such as Head Start, and national early childhood education specialists. We focused our data collection on states such as Oklahoma and Georgia that have large prekindergarten programs; traditional immigrant destinations such as California, New York, Florida, and Texas; and new immigrant destinations such as North Carolina, Tennessee, and Nevada.

Results. Our findings focus on inclusion strategies along three dimensions: outreach, enrollment assistance, and building relationships with parents. First, we uncovered a number of innovative and interesting outreach strategies from strategies for identifying immigrants in the community, conducting in-person outreach, and conducting targeted media outreach. Second, we highlight strategies programs can use to help families overcome documentation, language, and other enrollment barriers. Third, we identify strategies for building immigrant-friendly programs and fostering relationships between prekindergarten programs and immigrant parents, including cultural competence, translation and interpretation, targeted parent engagement, building relationships with trusted community organizations, and overcoming logistical barriers. For each strategy, we highlight methods that prekindergarten programs have used to locate funding and staffing for the efforts. We further identify policies and expectations that local and state program directors can put in place to facilitate intentional, effective strategies for designing immigrant-friendly programs and increasing immigrant inclusion in prekindergarten.