Engaging Low-Income Parents in Early Childhood Programs
(Family and Child Policy)
Friday, November 13, 2015: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
Merrick I (Hyatt Regency Miami)
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
Panel Organizers: Meghan McCormick, MDRC
Panel Chairs: Allison H. Friedman-Krauss, National Institute for Early Education Research
Discussants: Teresa Eckrich Sommer, Northwestern University
Policymakers and practitioners agree that parents are a critical influence on young children’s development. With rapid expansion of early childhood programs, efforts to integrate parents into services have increased. Given research showing that affluent parents have higher rates of parent involvement than their working class peers, attempts to engage parents in early childhood have been strongly targeted at low-income families. More recently, two-generation programs that directly target services at young children and their parents (through education/employment) have been implemented across the country.
Although engaging low-income parents in early childhood programs is politically neutral and rhetorically popular, there is actually a dearth of research examining the main factors predicting parent take-up of program services and parent-level outcomes (i.e., engagement, increase in education). With limited information, it is unclear if efforts to provide services for parents have the intended positive effects on their behaviors. In addition, there is little evidence that efforts to engage parents then have the intended effect of improving outcomes for children. Parent engagement efforts, however, can be resource intensive for early childhood programs, both in terms of human and financial capital. Research that can inform policymakers and practitioners on the main predictors of low-income parent engagement in early childhood services, and the corresponding gains for parents and children is needed.
The current set of papers aims to address these issues using a variety of data sources and analyses. The first paper uses data from the Head Start Impact Study to consider maternal increases in education attributed to assignment to Head Start. The paper examines the multi-level factors that promote mothers’ participation in education and whether effects are moderated by baseline maternal education. Findings suggest that individual and neighborhood characteristics predict educational participation for certain groups of mothers. Paper 2 then uses information from a quasi-experimental evaluation of the Child-Parent Center Education Program, a comprehensive early childhood program that explicitly promotes low-income parents’ engagement at school and at home. Authors will examine predictors of parent engagement, and subsequent intervention impacts on parent involvement and parenting practices. Given limited research on whether early childhood programs can improve levels of parent engagement, this paper will fill a needed gap in the literature. Finally, Paper 3 considers a sample of low-income urban parents participating in a randomized trial of an early childhood curriculum. The paper examines the factors predictive of parent engagement in services and corresponding effects on children’s academic and non-cognitive outcomes. Findings suggest participation among the most advantaged parents. Program effects were largely driven by children whose parents participated at lower rates, perhaps because they began the intervention with lower levels of academic and non-cognitive skills.
Dr. Terese Sommer, an expert on educational investments for parents and children at Northwestern University, will discuss the papers and their implications for expansion of early childhood and two-generation programs. Taken together, the papers will provide information on the supports needed for engaging low-income families in early childhood services, and whether such investments can have corresponding benefits for young children’s development.