Our country is in a child care crisis, exacerbated by the pandemic, which has shown how difficult it is for families to access quality, affordable care and for providers to make ends meet. Absent a robust federal investment and universal child care program, the Better Life Lab team at New America set out to better understand what innovations existed in the child care and early education space. Although no single innovation is enough to solve the national crisis, these innovations aim to improve existing parts of the child care delivery system. This five-part series is designed to share our findings as to what innovations could work in improving child care access, quality and affordability to create an equitable system that works for us all.
Justine Barawigira, 26, does not want to send her children to a child care center: “My bus can be late and [the center] can call police and take my child. Yeah, I cannot agree with that.” While public transportation can be unreliable and her job can let her out late, Barawigira’s decision to not use center-based care reflects cultural preference (many refugees are unfamiliar with the U.S. ECE system) and a deep need for her children to be with someone she trusts. At the root of her fear is mistrust of the U.S. care system to sympathize with her as a Black refugee mother and to protect her children.
Among young children with immigrant parents without a high school diploma, like Barawigira’s children, only 5% use center-based care. Lower levels of parental education are associated with lower income and with less full-time work. Parents’ immigration and education status is strongly associated with the use of center-based care: the higher the education status, the higher the likelihood parents will send their children to the often more formal center-based care.
Many immigrant parents express fear around ECE centers. They worry that their child rearing practices, which may be historically rooted and culturally normative, may be viewed as abuse in the U.S. They also fear being tracked, monitored or reported. As an example cited in Helping in Child Protective Services, a Diné family was distraught and invested significant effort to find advocates when a health inspector cited a child care center and named their child’s use of a cradleboard, a traditional sleeping and carrying apparatus, as “child abuse” during a visit to a ECE center.
Barawigira and her children are a part of the fast-changing Black population: one-in-10, approximately 4.6 million Black people living in the U.S., were immigrants as of 2019. And Black children are greatly over-represented in Child Protective Services cases, in which the state attempts or completes exactly what Barawigira fears—the removal of one’s children from one’s care. Black children also face the most difficulties in accessing high quality early education and have the highest likelihood of losing their access due to expulsion and suspensions, wrote W. Steven Barnett, co-director and founder of the National Institute for Early Education Research, and his colleagues.
Barawigira’s story reflects the U.S. history of exclusion and discrimination that weigh heavily on marginalized parents’ minds as they consider ECE options. In its 2020 Early Learning Needs Assessment, Washington State found that some marginalized parents chose not to access ECE because of fear or distrust of the system or concerns that their children may be unfairly treated or inaccurately assessed because of their race or cultural differences.
Despite growing findings on the importance of ECE, access has been slow and inequitable, with vulnerable populations often the last to benefit. The Urban Institute found that early childhood programs are among the most racially and ethnically segregated educational spaces in our country. In fact, some state policies promote segregation. For example, Park Slope North–Helen Owen Carey, a community-based universal pre-K provider that offers universal pre-K seats open to any child, as well as seats specifically reserved for low-income children whose families qualify for additional services, was financially punished when it refused to follow New York City’s policy of keeping the income-qualifying children and the general universal pre-K children in separate classrooms.
Young children of immigrants, the fastest growing population of young children in the U.S., are not being reached by the existing publicly subsidized system ostensibly designed to help them. The child care system in the U.S is a woefully inadequate and inequitable patchwork built around a private market of those parents who can pay and public programs for those financially struggling parents who meet income thresholds and other eligibility criteria. So creating an inclusive and equitable child care system will demand deliberate design and policy considerations.
The first step to mitigating these inequities is reaching all populations of young children and building trust with their families in order to understand their wants and needs for a child care program, and then to enroll them in the programs that meet those needs. Some promising programs simplify enrollment, initiate culturally competent outreach, advance staff recruitment and ongoing training, and develop trusting relationships with parents.
For easier reading, we’ve broken down 15 key innovations—programs and practices—into two parts.
The first —5a— focuses on the first steps to accountability, understanding and outreach to underserved communities.
The second—5b—highlights program designs that center marginalized students and their families across the country.
Click or tap on each to expand their findings:
Key Innovation Area #5a → Rethink and restructure early education settings to be accountable to the needs of an increasingly diverse U.S. child care population and their families.
The first step of accountability is access through:
Data collection, which is necessary to understand and allocate resources to underserved communities
Helping families with the multi-step enrollment process
Reducing structural barriers that prevents families from completing applications
You can’t solve a problem if you don’t assess the problem. Yet, many states cannot answer questions on the quality of ECE programs, identify which children have access to ECE services, how effectively these services promote school readiness and positive health outcomes, or if the workforce is adequately trained to meet the needs of diverse children.
Data on young children are too often silo-ed, disconnected and uncoordinated, preventing policymakers from understanding and responding efficiently and reliably to families’ needs, observed ChildTrends. For decades, more than half of the states have lacked comprehensive data needed to assess early childhood policies and outcomes, according to a 2018 ChildTrends survey. Adequate data collection would support rapid response planning to vulnerable populations during crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as to improve accessibility to ECE.
Effective data collection depends on partnership with families, early learning professionals, community leaders and local organizations. Without these connections, the data risks excluding marginalized populations and thus fails to address discrimination and systemic barriers. These partners should be included at every step of data collection, from the creation of the survey to the analysis of data.
This type of community-centered data collection builds trust within a community, and as a result, increases new enrollments of vulnerable young children to ECE programs, building positive parent-teacher partnerships to enhance children’s development, and even recruiting and training diverse teachers.
Head Start’s Community Needs Assessments
The first step toward increasing the accessibility of ECE is to learn who the families are, where they are, the extent to which they enroll in early education programs and the issues they face that affect their willingness to access these programs.
Head Start, a 1965 federally funded program that offers comprehensive ECE, health, nutrition and parent involvement services to low-income families, provides one model of the kinds of data-gathering early educators need. All Head Start grantees are required to conduct community needs assessments every five years to determine the number of eligible infants, toddlers, preschool age children and expectant mothers, including their geographic location, race, ethnicity and languages they speak.
All data collection must document eligible children to reach families like Barawigira’s, who did not apply with a statewide provider. Programs are also required to track children’s experiences with homelessness, foster care and disabilities; their education, health, nutrition and social service needs; the typical work, school and training schedules of parents; other child development, child care centers and family child care programs that serve eligible children; resources that are available in the community to address the needs of eligible children and their families; and, the strengths of the community. These assessments paint a picture of the community, capturing the historical, economic and political scene to maximize benefits for even the most underserved and hardest to reach families, such as mixed-citizenship status families who have low education attainment and limited English proficiency.
Each program must annually review and update the community assessment to reflect any significant changes, such as rates of family and child homelessness, and shifts in community demographics. As a result, the program can quickly meet the needs of a new population, such as the 2021 influx of Afghan families. Preferring to speak over the phone rather than in email correspondence, a Head Start program in Minnesota, which asked not to be named due to fear of anti-immigration and anti-Muslim acts that have been occurring in the state, reached a large number of Afghan families within weeks of their arrival. The program’s deep community engagement through strong relationships with parents and partnerships with local organizations means that families’ trust in the local organizations is extended to the ECE program, effectively mitigating the anxieties around ECE.
While data collection may not sound like an innovation, adopting Head Start’s guidelines and focus areas could be the most critical step towards equity and accountability in ECE, especially for marginalized communities. The shift intentionally centers marginalized young children and begins to account for the U.S. history of ableism, white supremacy, anti-immgiration, anti-LGBTQ+ and other systemic violence because the data helps capture the effects of this violence and helps make visible the barriers to ECE. This enables ECE providers and programs to more directly respond to and meet families’ needs.
Adopting a Head Start-style community assessment is also an opportunity to be more inclusive. For example, new assessments can also ask about different family structures and a child’s gender identity.
Despite Head Start’s successes, it serves less than 40% of the 3- and 4-year-olds in poverty and less than 5% of the children under age 3 living in poverty, according toState(s) of Head Start, the first report to comprehensively analyze Head Start’s enrollment, funding, quality and duration by individual states. The report shows that Head Start is under-funded and is administered so differently from state to state that children do not benefit equally. For example, at age 4, enrollment by state varies from 17% (Nevada) to 100% (North Dakota) of eligible children.
Local and State Needs Assessments
Other non-Head Start programs also collect meaningful data that serves as a model for additional efforts. Some school districts in New Jersey are likewise required to conduct community needs assessments. In other states, regional governing bodies determine the characteristics and needs of children in their service area. North Carolina’s Statewide Birth-5 Needs Assessment collects data on a range of issues, including infant mortality, food and housing security, emergency room visits, child health, foster care, early learning and early literacy for all 100 counties as part of its Early Childhood Action Plan. Additionally, it recently reestablished the Early Childhood Data Advisory Council to focus on improving the quality and scope of early childhood data collection
Rapid Assessment of Pandemic Impact on Development–Early Childhood Project (RAPID-EC)
In times of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, data collection must be fast and adaptable to guide advocates, policymakers and other stakeholders. The RAPID-EC project, based at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education, collected information on early childhood and family well-being in response to the pandemic through a survey in April 2020 and again in March 2021 to provide actionable data, particularly to legislators, as it provided regular reports and policy briefs.
While RAPID-EC recruits participants through Facebook advertising, its success comes from its partnership with parent- and child care provider-facing organizations, including ParentsTogether, HomeGrown, Child Care Aware of America, Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors and the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment.
Additionally, it employed data from the U.S. Census, Pew Research Center, Urban Institute, National Survey of Early Care and Education and the National Health Interview Survey, among others, to create its own integrated data system. The surveys are offered in English and Spanish. According to program manager, Cristi Carman, RAPID-EC has a large pool of participants and invites potential respondents, whose “race/ethnicity, income and geographic location . . . are proportional to the population of households with children under age 6 in the US.”
ChildTrends’ Early Childhood Data Collaborative: Data Sharing and Linking
While Head Start’s data collection ensures it will reach vulnerable populations, its programs are least likely to be linked to other databases on children and families compared to other ECE programs, such as subsidized child care or state pre-kindergarten (33% versus 71-81%). The lack of data sharing between ECE programs requires unnecessary re-assessment when a child moves from one program to another and creates a significant knowledge gap in ECE programs within a state or nation.
In response to the lack of data sharing and integration, ChildTrends established the Early Childhood Data Collaborative to help state policymakers’ development and use of coordinated state ECE data systems to make policy decisions. The collaborative encourages data sharing and integration from two or more sources to answer policy, program and research questions about children, families and the services they receive. For example, linking data between licensed child care facilities and children receiving subsidized child care helps providers identify supply and demand of child care. It can also help providers determine which services reach the greatest number of (or most vulnerable) children and families to create coordinated and rapid outreach strategies when needed during the pandemic.
Enrollment remains an obstacle for many families despite the growing public investments in ECE over the past two decades. Enrolling in publicly funded early childhood education involves many time-consuming steps: the search for programs; applying to express interest in these programs; supplying documentation to verify family eligibility, and registering to confirm enrollment.
With so many hurdles, many low-income families particularly struggle to navigate the existing options, which is further elaborated in Ai Binh Ho’s From Trauma to Development, and comply with identity and income verification. Documents required for verification can include birth certificate, parent ID, proof of guardianship (if not parent), two proofs of residency, four current and consecutive pay stubs for each parent, W-2 forms, income tax forms and an official letter from the employer. Parents must include a recent unemployment compensation statement if they do not work. Head Start also requires in-person interviews with each family.
New Orleans: Enrollment Reminders via Text Message
The most frequently mentioned barrier to verification is confusion over the steps required to verify family income; about 20% of parents indicated some logistical barrier to completing the process; approximately 15% expressed difficulty finding or accessing at least one of the required documents; and 9% expressed that work schedule conflicts prevented them from verifying during the available hours.
Starting in 2012, New Orleans began using a common application, OneApp, to simplify the ECE application process and encourage families to consider multiple programs, allowing the vast majority (86%) of 2017–2018 ECE applicants to choose more than one program. The OneAPP is available in English, Spanish and Vietnamese. Still, only about 65% of families in 2016–2017 completed the verification step after applying.
In an experiment to increase verification rates through text messages that permit two-way communication to remind parents and answer questions about verification, researchers Lindsay Weizler et. al found that the intervention increased verification rates by 13 to 15 percentage points and the speed with which applicants verified. Researchers concluded that barriers rather than a lack of motivation prevented families from completing verification as nearly 90% of parents, who received a personalized message, replied at least once with follow-up questions.
Solving Capacity Limitations
Two-way communication of texting cannot eliminate structural barriers to verification, such as inflexible work schedules, lack of transportation options (which prevents families from taking their children for up-to-date vaccinations and in-person interviews required by Head Start), or difficulty in accessing required documents. Combining the low-cost texting intervention with innovations adopted by other cities could reduce application confusion and structural barriers that ultimately bar children from publicly funded ECE.
Flexibility in Enrollment Strategies
Expanding Preschool Access for Children of Immigrants, an Urban Institute study by Erica Greenberg et. al in 2018, synthesizes the strategies of four communities with unusually high rates of enrollment among low-income immigrant families and negligible (or nonexistent) gaps in enrollment between children of immigrants and children of U.S.-born parents. The report found that locations in Dearborn, MI; Atlanta, GA; King County, WA; and Houston, TX offer simplified application, enrollment assistance, and flexible times and locations for enrollment. Additionally, they facilitate immigrant inclusion by not asking for parents’ or children’s Social Security numbers; by translating forms, related websites and informational materials into popular languages; allowing flexibility in the types of proof of residence and other documentations; and by not requiring proof of income unless necessary.
The rise in children’s uninsured rates and widening racial disparities during the COVID-19 pandemic requires an urgency for programs to help families with health screenings and immunization requirements by connecting families to partners who provide low-cost or free health care to young children. Millions–one out of three–of children fell behind on their vaccinations in 2021. Parents In Community Action, Inc. (PICA), a federally designated grantee that operates Head Start programs in Hennepin County in Minnesota partnered with Hennepin Health Mobile Clinic to offer vaccinations at one of its centers, where parents are already doing drop-offs and pick-ups. Siblings can get vaccinated together so families do not need to make multiple doctor visits. Sheyanga Beecher, Hennepin Healthcare nurse practitioner, explains that parents extend their trust in the teachers and school nurses to the vaccination pop-up since it’s promoted by ECE programs.
The Houston Independent School District’s Enrollment Fair
Expanding Preschool Access shows the effectiveness of a centralized registration that includes interpreters, health providers who can complete required health screenings, and representatives from social service agencies who can respond to any broader family issues to simplify enrollment. The Houston Independent School District, for example, hosts a district-wide application fair to assist families with the ECE application process. They provide help in English and Spanish to families who cannot attend the event by connecting with them virtually or in phone calls. Offering these services in several languages spoken by immigrants throughout a community promotes inclusion in the ECE system.
Expanding Preschool Access says flexibility is the key that stakeholders found after years of different innovations. Pre-school administrators in these locations constantly adapt to family needs. The report offers quotations from these administrators, showing the approaches they take:
“We’ve purchased handheld scanners [to upload documents on the go] and everything to support families…we had the whole staff become notaries so the need for notarized signatures wouldn’t be a barrier”
“When families are really struggling . . .sometimes they will come to us with the empty forms and we’ll help them fill out those forms”
“Even if they miss [the deadline], we still have chances for them to make up enrollment. …There’s always an opportunity to not miss out.”
The emphasis here is to get every child in a program by meeting parents’ needs. This level of flexibility that prioritizes young children’s enrollment over rules and procedures requires resources, culturally competent training and time, to trial and error different techniques and shifting family needs.
Researchers at Education for Research Alliance recommend removing the barrier of the enrollment process altogether. Policymakers, for example, could align ECE income eligibility requirements with requirements for other social services to preapprove ECE applicants who qualify for these services.
By understanding that immigrants, like Barawigira, who fear ECE, and thus, cannot reap its benefits, programs can focus on targeted outreach to mitigate fear and highlight benefits. These children, like every young child, offer their personality, intelligence, compassion and experiences to their teachers and peers as they learn and play together. These rich daily interactions are the very best part of education. That is, the absence of Barawigira’s children in ECE programs not only disadvantages them, but deprives all children by taking away opportunities for children to understand and interact with a truer representation of the U.S. population.
Key Innovation Area #5b → Young children need holistic care that centers academic and social-emotional needs.
To create positive learning environment for all students, ECE stakeholders must:
Develop diverse early childhood workforce
Invest in Friend, Family, and Neighbor Care
Promote whole family solutions and resources to help the children who have experienced trauma
For the majority of her motherhood, Zahra Hasmi’s biggest concern has been whether her children will return home each day: “When they went to the school, I was thinking, “I don’t know if my son or my daughter will come home alive.” Before moving to Arizona three years ago, Hasmi, who is originally from Afghanistan, witnessed the murder of multiple family members. She mourns others she left behind. After her father and uncle were burned alive in front of her, she married a man who worked at the U.S. embassy. Now 41, she doesn’t know how old she was when she got married; she only knows that marriage might have helped her stay alive. Four of her cousins were also burned alive in their homes. Her mother still carries a bullet left by a member of the Taliban.
Now she is in the U.S., far from that violence, but ever-connected to her original home. Her first priority is to help the family members she has left behind, rather than focus on her daughter’s education, which might look like a luxury in a life and death context.
Though she speaks some English, Hasmi is illiterate in all languages. Her daughter recently started school when Hasmi learned about the school from a friend. She does not know the name of the school nor if it’s kindergarten or preschool. She is also unsure of her daughter’s age—she trusts that the school placed her daughter in an appropriate class when she presented her daughter’s green card.
Hasmi’s story reflects a common reality in a nation as diverse as the U.S., particularly among the youngest population: young children do not arrive at early education and care (ECE) programs equally ready to absorb knowledge. Research finds that parents’ economic hardship and psychological distress, such as feelings of depression, anxiety and worry, lower children’s cognitive skills as early as 24 months. Hasmi’s uncertainty, feelings of helplessness, the witnessing of atrocities against her family members and prolonged sadness have a cumulative effect on the family and the parent-child relationship.
Her family is not alone as 34.8 million children (ages 0-17)—nearly half of American children—are exposed to adverse childhood experiences. Trauma is rooted in geopolitics, race, gender and economic disparity. Young children who live in poverty are more vulnerable to the negative effects of trauma than are children living in higher-income families.
Centering equity in ECE requires programs to intentionally mitigate the effects of trauma. Young children are the most vulnerable to long-term negative effects of trauma. Trauma during the early years can damage the cortex, the hippocampus and the amygdala of the brain, and can disrupt healthy development by interfering with a child’s ability to develop positive relationships with adults and peers, to learn and play, and to self-regulate their emotions, attention and behavior.
There is significant evidence on the importance of demographic similarities between teachers and caregivers in ECE settings and young children. The state and federal government must intentionally recruit and train more teachers who look like their students and understand their background, and direct resources to existing informal caregivers like the Family, Friend and Neighbor (FFN) providers many families prefer for various reasons. Ultimately, in so doing, this will help heal and help the whole family that surrounds each child.
Bilingual Early Childhood Teachers and Pamoja
The University of the District of Columbia Community College designed and implemented a Spanish-English bilingual associate degree program after Washington, D.C. passed regulations that sought to increase the education and credentials of the early educator workforce in 2016. This program aimed to address academic, bureaucratic, linguistic and other barriers to obtaining degrees by providing early childhood educators with the opportunity to take courses in Spanish at close to no cost. Colorado’s Pamoja Early Childhood Education Workforce Program offers free college-accredited courses in four languages—Swahili, Arabic, Farsi, and Karen, a language spoken by refugees from Burma and Thailand—and connects providers and teachers with mentors to help with homework and technology skills—all of which helps increase the likelihood that each woman completes her certificate.
Programs must intervene in the discrimination experienced by marginalized teachers. National Survey of Early Care and Education from 2019 data shows that wages for early childhood teachers differ by race: Black women earned 76.3 % and Latinx earned 85.2% of what white teachers were earning. Perhaps even more troubling is that the wage disparities worsened for both Black and Latinx teachers from 2012 and 2019. While inflation-unadjusted hourly wages for white women increased 92 cents, they decreased for Black and Latinx women by 40 cents and $1.05, respectively.
Soad Altaai, a Muslim teacher assistant and translator for Pamoja, says “The discrimination . . . was normal.” As an example, she recalls being blamed when a non-verbal child began acting aggressively. The mother told the ECE director that the aggressive behavior began when Soad was hired. Lauren Dorn, Pamoja program director, explains it is not enough for the program to build a diverse workforce. For example, Pamoja offered implicit bias training to an ECE center when Pamoja recognized that the center repeatedly rejected Pamoja’s Muslims teachers.
Parents in Community Action (PICA)
Programs can create a sustainable and diverse early education workforce by establishing relationships with parents. Parents In Community Action, Inc. (PICA), a federally designated grantee that operates Head Start programs in Hennepin County in Minnesota, has staff members who have been there for decades. As a part of its efforts to improve families’ economic trajectories, PICA trains and hires staff directly from the families they serve. In fact, PICA is the number one trainer of teachers of color in the state of Minnesota. According to PICA’s director Monshari Chandler, over 70% of its staff are parents whose children are in the program or have graduated from the program. It is because of their deep engagement with parents that PICA knew and quickly responded to parents’ struggle to vaccinate their children during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to a diverse staff, ECE programs need to provide comprehensive training for staff, create safe and supportive early learning environments, and address cultural and linguistic needs. Adopting a trauma-informed philosophy requires a paradigm shift that begins with understanding that challenging behaviors are normal reactions to trauma and not intentional misbehavior. Programs such as Early Head Start and Head Start with access to infant/early childhood mental health consultation report less expulsion. These professionalization and additional aids require substantial government funding and initiatives.
Families (including chosen families) are young children’s first and most important teachers. Developmentally appropriate practices for young children should be informed by knowledge of young children’s social and cultural contexts, according to the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Strong partnerships between parents and providers enhance children’s social, emotional and cognitive development. All solutions need meaningful community outreach and make a real commitment to language access that includes investments in the translation of informational materials, as well as bilingual staff and interpreters.
The best growing conditions for young children depend on comprehensive support services for families because the stresses, work conditions and overall well being of caregivers profoundly impact young children’s cognitive and emotional development.
Despite knowing this, the U.S. engages with families in fragmented ways, according to Deborah Young, founder of Empowering Communities Globally: For the Care of Children and a Pamoja organizer. Young explains, as an example, Pamoja’s Early Childhood Education and Workforce Pathway Program, FFN Family Home Training Program, and Fatherhood Program come from disparate grants. In the Fatherhood Program, the grant stipulated a focus on a single ethnicity.
As a result, teaching and caring for young children include investments and work toward a range of social and political changes. As examples, these changes can be pathway towards permanent residency and citizenship, which reduces the chronic stress on the entire family, and work authorization and labor protection to prevent exploitation of undocumented and documented immigrants, allowing them to earn more wages and more time with their children.
Briya Public Charter School and Mary’s Center
Briya Public Charter School in Washington D.C., as an example, provides a whole-family approach by offering free high-quality early education to children as well as a tuition-free high school diploma program, Medical Assistant program, Child Development Associate program and English as a second language program to immigrant parents, all at the same location. Additionally, three of the four locations offer health services through Mary’s Center, a community health center. Recognizing the trauma experienced by many immigrants and refugees, Christie McKay, Briya’s executive director, explains that Briya has mental health and behavioral health counselors within their schools, allowing any adult and child student access to counseling, which is often inaccessible for financial reasons and its foreignness for many immigrants. To reduce stigma and unfamiliarity, counselors join classes and lunch to normalize talking about trauma and allow students to request individual sessions when they’re ready.
Invest in More Home Visiting Programs
Home visiting has been shown tobenefitthe whole family, strengthening children’s linguistic and cognitive development and their school readiness, increasing parents’ income, employment rates and school enrollment. However, home visiting is underfunded. A North Carolina 2020 statewide report found that home visiting programs serve less than 1% of eligible children; 72% of home visiting programs maintain a waitlist. The nation’s data reflects similar information: home visiting serves 1.6% of the 18 million pregnant women and parenting families who could benefit from home visiting, according to a 2019 Home Visiting Yearbook.
Aimee Hilado, academic researcher, clinician and program senior manager of RefugeeOne, calls for leveraging early childhood education systems, particularly home-visiting, to mitigate trauma and promote developmental and healthy outcomes for the entire family. She explains that home-visiting can build trust and remove several access barriers, such as transportation, and reduce the anxiety of encountering federal agents at a public service venue. Staff can better see the family’s needs since members are more comfortable at home and can target their specific needs through providing information, training, screenings, and connections and referrals to services for parents expecting or caring for young children.
RefugeeOne Wellness Program
As mentioned above, because these visits happen in individual families, they can be an opportunity to address trauma in a way that does not feel foreign or stigmatizing for immigrant families. RefugeeOne Wellness Program, a mental health program in Illinois that started in 2016, integrates a home visiting program for trauma-exposed pregnant mothers and families with children under age three of refugee/immigrant status. The program sends a team of clinicians, psychiatrists and interpreters to immigrant homes, regarding the parent as an expert in their own right, through a partnership to support both child and parent goals.
In addition to strengthening the parent-child relationship and promoting child development, staff can introduce immigrant families to additional support programs. Hilado and her team found that children receiving these home visits showed gains in social emotional and language development. Parents expressed fewer stress symptoms, were more likely to identify needs and navigate community resources, and also were more likely to be employed with either part time or full time employment.
Key Question → Is It Enough?
» Answer? Not on a voluntary, limited basis
Race, immigration status, parental language, parental education and income are predictors of children’s participation in ECE. The current market-based system, in which only families who can afford the care they prefer have the flexibility to procure it, leaves children of color and children from low-income families at a profound disadvantage. Professor Mariana Souto-Manning argues that early childhood education “centers white interest, promotes white supremacy, upholds inferiority and deficit beliefs pertaining to children and communities of colors, and sees the language practices of communities of color as needing remedy. As such, early childhood education in the U.S. systematically and continuously inflicts harm on children, families and communities of color.”
But culturally inclusive programs, such as those described above, respond to systematic disenfranchisement and benefit all students, who learn by interacting with their peers. Children in diverse preschool settings show increased learning outcomes and learn to empathize and coexist with people from other races and classes.
However, it is clear that the best models of inclusive early education today are far too limited, confined to highly motivated organizations and programs that receive federal funding and have a mandate to serve all children equally. Future child care policy at the federal and state levels must make cultural responsiveness on an ongoing basis a requirement for increased funding to child care providers.
Ai Binh T. Ho is a Leading Edge Fellow with the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS). She focuses on the "Innovations in Childcare Access and Affordability in the United States" project at the Better Life Lab (New America).