Panel: Policy-Amenable Inputs to the Early Development of Children with or at Risk for Special Needs
(Family and Child Policy)

Saturday, November 10, 2018: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Jefferson - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Chairs:  Anna Johnson, Georgetown University
Discussants:  Elizabeth Groginsky, D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education

Neonatal Health Vulnerability and Early Childhood Cognitive Outcomes: Variation in Effects By Socioeconomic Status
Christina M. Padilla, Rebecca Ryan and Caitlin Hines, Georgetown University

Effects of Child Care Subsidy on School Readiness of Young Children with Special Needs
Elyse Farnsworth, Amanda Sullivan and Amy Susman-Stillman, University of Minnesota

Alongside children from low-income families, children with or at risk for special needs (SN) are a primary focus of public investment in early intervention and early care and education (ECE) programs. In 2017, $11.9 billion was allocated to Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to offset states’ K-12 education needs for children with disabilities, and $403.2 million was allocated to Part C of IDEA for state ECE and early intervention services (Department of Education, 2017). The Head Start program and state-funded pre-kindergarten programs also increasingly serve children with SN in inclusive settings. Importantly, estimates suggest that somewhere between 6-7 million young children age 0-5 have or may be at risk for a SN.

Children with SN struggle to keep up with their typically-developing peers. Children who are low birth weight (LBW), a key risk factor for SN, are more likely to experience low cognitive, social, and behavioral outcomes (Black et al., 2007; Royer, 2009). Children with mild to moderate SN are also at risk for decreased achievement and social skills (Guralnick et al., 2006; Odom et al., 2006). Correlational research suggests that these negative outcomes are stronger for children from low socioeconomic status (SES) families (Currie & Moretti, 2007). 

In light of the public investment in children with SN as well as the risks to healthy development they face, it is worthwhile to consider which children are most susceptible to these risks, and to identify policy-amenable levers in children’s early environments to address the needs of this large and vulnerable population.  

The papers on the proposed panel approach this topic from two angles, first examining the link between risk for SN due to poor neonatal health (e.g. LBW) and early cognitive outcomes and then investigating the role that publicly-funded ECE might play in enhancing early outcomes for children with SN. Paper #1 (Padilla and colleagues) uses a sibling fixed-effect approach and finds evidence of a causal link between risk for SN at birth and poorer math and reading outcomes at age four, particularly for children from low-SES families. Paper #2 (Schochet & colleagues) examines the impact of publicly-funded center-based preschool participation on the kindergarten skills of children with SN, finding positive effects of center-based preschool relative to home-based care for the language/literacy and prosocial behavioral outcomes of children with SN. Paper # 3 (Farnsworth & colleagues) focuses specifically on the federal child care subsidy program, finding that low-income children with SN who received child care subsidies had lower literacy and numeracy skills in kindergarten than children with SN who received unsubsidized care.

The 3 papers will be discussed by Elizabeth Groginsky, the Deputy Superintendent for Early Learning in the Office of the State Superintendent of Education – the lead education agency in Washington, DC. Ms. Groginsky oversees the child care subsidy program and Part B and C early intervention administration in DC. She will bring a unique perspective, contextualizing the research findings in the realities of program administration.

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