Family Support Research: Early Cognitive Development


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This is part of our Building Support for Latino Families: A Research Review »

Latinos Kids Face a Big Gap in Early Cognitive Development

The socioeconomic gap in academic performance has been demonstrated repeatedly, with children from low-income households exhibiting deficits in school readiness and social development upon entering kindergarten.

fam support prob - cognitive development gapSeveral studies have shown that early educational gaps are maintained, and can even grow, for children from high-risk communities.12,15,23–26

Risk factors including poverty, low parental education, limited English proficiency, and single-parent homes, many of which are disproportionately present in Latino communities, put Latino children at a disadvantage for cognitive development relative to their non-Hispanic peers.27–30

In general, a 15- to 25-percentage point gap exists for Latino children relative to their white peers, with ample data showing that those who start school behind often stay behind.31

Furthermore, educational deficits in elementary school have been linked with higher drop-out rates, lower educational attainment, delinquency, and higher rates of unemployment later in life, all of which maintain the cycle of poverty.7

Latino Kids Lack Home Environment for School Preparedness

The skills assessed for “school preparedness,” including language, literacy, numeracy, science, creative arts, as well as social, emotional, and physical health,32 are gained by having a stimulating home and school environment, responsive relationships, adequate nutrition, and opportunity for physical activity while a young child.33–35

fam support prob - home environmentIn low-income Latino families, these conditions often cannot be met.

Insufficient funds for books, toys, and healthy foods, as well as limited time for parent-child interactions make the home environment suboptimal, while crowded homes and unsafe neighborhoods make physical activity difficult.36

Within low-income communities, limited education and awareness of early childhood needs also contribute to a suboptimal home environment.

Finally, the presence of “toxic stress,” defined as chronic, overwhelming stress experienced by both parents and children in the home,4 has been shown to hamper cognitive development in children as well as impair their physical health.37 Until Latino families are given the resources to escape poverty, toxic stress will remain a factor in the development of Latino children.

More from our Building Support for Latino Families: A Research Review »

References for this section »

4. Shonkoff, J. P. et al. The Lifelong Effects of Early Childhood Adversity and Toxic Stress. Pediatrics 129, e232–e246 (2012).

7. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Early Childhood Experiences Shape Health and Well-Being Throughout Life. (2014).

12. Rathbun, A., West, J. & Hausken, E. G. From Kindergarten Through Third Grade Children’s Beginning School Experiences. NCES 2004? 007. US Dep. Educ. (2004).

15. Heckman, J. J. Skill Formation and the Economics of Investing in Disadvantaged Children. Science 312, 1900–1902 (2006).

23. Reardon, S. F. & Galindo, C. The Hispanic-White Achievement Gap in Math and Reading in the Elementary Grades. Am. Educ. Res. J. 46, 853–891 (2009).

24. Glick, J. E. & Hohmann-Marriott, B. Academic Performance of Young Children in Immigrant Families: The Significance of Race, Ethnicity, and National Origins1. Int. Migr. Rev. 41, 371–402 (2007).

25. Han, W.-J. The academic trajectories of children of immigrants and their school environments. Dev. Psychol. 44, 1572–1590 (2008).

26. Entwisle, D. R., Alexander, K. L. & Olson, L. S. First Grade and Educational Attainment by Age 22: A New Story. Am. J. Sociol. 110, 1458–1502 (2005).

27. Ansari, A. & Winsler, A. School readiness among low-income, Latino children attending family childcare versus centre-based care. Early Child Dev. Care 182, 1465–1485 (2012).

28. Chernoff, J. J., Flanagan, K. D., McPhee, C. & Park, J. Preschool: First Findings from the Preschool Follow-Up of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort (ECLS-B). First Look. NCES 2008-025. Natl. Cent. Educ. Stat. (2007).

29. Fuller, B. & García Coll, C. Learning from Latinos: Contexts, families, and child development in motion. Dev. Psychol. 46, 559–565 (2010).

30. Galindo, C. & Fuller, B. The social competence of Latino kindergartners and growth in mathematical understanding. Dev. Psychol. 46, 579–592 (2010).

31. Ansari, A. & López, M. Preparing low-income Latino children for kindergarten and beyond: How children in Miami’s publicly-funded preschool programs fare. children 7, 9 (2015).

32. Head Start Bureau. The Head Start path to positive child outcomes. Wash. DC (2003).

33. Gross, D. et al. Efficacy of the Chicago Parent Program with Low-Income African American and Latino Parents of Young Children. Prev. Sci. 10, 54–65 (2009).

34. Fuller, B., Kagan, S. L., Loeb, S. & Chang, Y.-W. Child care quality: centers and home settings that serve poor families. Early Child. Res. Q. 19, 505–527 (2004).

35. Lindsay, A. C., Salkeld, J. A., Greaney, M. L. & Sands, F. D. Latino Family Childcare Providers’ Beliefs, Attitudes, and Practices Related to Promotion of Healthy Behaviors among Preschool Children: A Qualitative Study. Journal of Obesity (2015). doi:10.1155/2015/409742

36. Murphey, D., Guzman, L. & Torres, A. America’s Hispanic children: Gaining ground, looking forward. (Child Trends, 2014).

37. Evans, G. W. & Kim, P. Childhood Poverty, Chronic Stress, Self-Regulation, and Coping. Child Dev. Perspect. 7, 43–48 (2013).

By The Numbers By The Numbers



of Latino parents support public funding for afterschool programs.

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