Improving School Readiness through Parenting, Maternal Health, and Early Childhood Intervention

The most important factors for children’s development and school readiness are good birth outcomes, positive parenting practices, and access to high quality early childhood programs, according to the results of a longitudinal study in Palm Beach County, Florida. Getting children ready for school in low-income communities also requires a strong system of prevention and early intervention services.

What we did

We conducted in-depth qualitative interviews with 50 mothers over time to learn how they support their children’s development and get them ready for school. This research was part of a longitudinal mixed-methods evaluation of the Palm Beach County system of prevention and early intervention services. We also analyzed survey data on a larger sample of mothers and results of assessments of their children’s school readiness.

What we found

Positive parenting practices measured in the child’s first year were the most important factor in their readiness for school five years later. Other factors relevant to school readiness include:

  • Good birth outcomes
  • Access to high quality early childhood programs
  • Support for literacy development in the home

Most parents in the study received services related to maternal health, child health, and parenting in the first year after their child’s birth, along with referrals to other services. However, use of services to improve parenting or child development after the first year was very low. In addition, only about a third of children attended early childhood programs the year before kindergarten.

What it means

These findings suggest several ways to improve services to support families in caring for their children and preparing them for school across the early childhood continuum:

  • Increase screening and identification of mothers with depression beyond the first year. Our interviews suggest that it takes time and consistent relationships with service providers for mothers to open up about their emotional experiences and needs.
  • Improve the quality and effectiveness of parenting supports and education. Mothers with lower educational backgrounds or literacy skills, especially those for whom English is a second language, might need additional supports.
  • Improve access to and quality of early care and education. Ineligibility for a child care subsidy was a significant barrier. Along with increasing access, it is also important to ensure that early care and education programs address the particular needs of children from both low-income and, especially, language-minority backgrounds.
  • Improve structures and systems to help families stay involved in or become re-connected to needed services over time. With new developmental stages, parents are likely to face new challenges and questions. As their children get older, parents are more open to preschool or home-based educational programs. These early childhood periods could be “touch points” when parents can become re-engaged with services.
Recommended Citation
Spielberger, J., Gouvêa, M. & Rich, L. (2012). Improving School Readiness: A Brief Report from the Palm Beach County Family Study. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.
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