Family Support Research: Head Start Centers as Resource Hubs


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

The Growth of Head Start

Given the evidence to support the benefit of organized early childhood education, development of high-quality ECE centers that also promote engagement of Latino parents holds great promise for the future of Latino children.

A Head Start in Idaho (Source: Darin Oswald-Idaho Statesman)

Many programs from the 1960s and on provide evidence for the effectiveness of incorporating parent-targeted elements within early childcare programs, and these family-based approaches form the basis for the two-generation model discussed later in this review.

The first explicit family-based program was Head Start, which in 1965 declared the goal of providing low-income preschool children a comprehensive program to meet their emotional, social, health, nutritional and psychological needs.

Embedded within the program were parental self-sufficiency lessons, including basic adult education, GED attainment, and aid for placement into entry-level jobs.17 However, Head Start program quality and services were and continue to be variable across sites of implementation. In addition to providing ECE, some sites have included medical, dental, and mental health care, as well as nutrition counseling and general family support.81

Combined, several longitudinal analyses have suggested that Head Start participants exhibit improved cognitive and social development, higher rates of high school graduation and college attendance, higher earnings, better health, and lower rates of incarceration.82–84

Head Start services have proven beneficial both in the short- and long- term for low-income Latino children, who constitute 37% of current Head Start and Early Head Start participants.85,86

Head Start’s Positive Impact on Children

The first programs to rigorously test the value of high-quality early education family-based programs were the Perry Preschool study87 and the Abecedarian Project.9,88,89 Both were small studies that involved random placement of low-income primarily African-American children into experimental or control (no-ECE) groups; neither included any Latino participants. Both programs included well-developed curricula, experienced teachers, and parental involvement.

The Perry Preschool study, from 1962-1967, enrolled 3- and 4-year old children and included weekly 1.5 hour home visits to help the parent implement the school curriculum at home.

The Abecedarian Project, held from 1972 to 1977, enrolled children from birth to age 5, involved a comprehensive “learning-game” curriculum that included parental participation at school and at home, and also provided on-site health care.

fam support working - head start hubsFor both programs, short-term cognitive and social gains were immediately observed, but long-term follow-up of participants through age 40 and beyond have shown the dramatic positive effect such programs can impart. In both cases, participants were found to have: 1) higher rates of high school graduation, 2) higher rates of college attendance and completion, 3) higher adult income, 4) lower rates of teen pregnancy, 5) lower rates of crime perpetration, 6) lower rates of family discord, 7) higher level of parental interest in child’s educational attainment, and 8) better physical health.9,87–89

Of note, physical health outcomes were measured directly using blood biomarkers instead of self-reporting, and performed by physicians blinded to program participation.9 Taken together, these data provide proof-of-principle of the benefits derived from high-quality early childhood education coupled with family engagement that goes beyond parent training.

Similar family-targeted programs in Chicago, Boston, Miami, and Tulsa have reported equivalent short-term findings, suggesting that the benefits of such programs hold true in different populations.27,43,90,91

Interestingly, several studies, including a few involving primarily Latino populations, have found that public pre-kindergarten programs (pre-K) provide even more robust educational outcomes for low-income Latino youth than center-based programs that accepted child care subsidies (such as Head Start).31,43,92

These results provide hope that as the importance of early childhood education for low-income, disadvantaged youth becomes more widely appreciated, universal pre-K programs will be established that have dramatic impacts for Latino communities.

Head Start’s Positive Impact Extends to the Family

An important finding of the studies listed above has been the effect that positive academic outcomes in children has on parents, and on family units as a whole. At the most basic level, it has been seen that when children thrive in school environments, parents become motivated to improve their own education and economic standing.93,94

Interestingly, a number of studies that sought to increase disadvantaged mothers’ educational attainment in an attempt to improve their children’s academic accomplishments (presumably through improved parenting and educational modeling) failed, with some even worsening educational outcomes for the children.95–97

Further analysis of these studies found that pushing parents with young children to go back to school, often while also holding a job, actually increased stress levels in the home and decreased time spent with children.

Thus it makes sense that two-generation approaches that support developmental gains in the child while also providing basic resource services to the parent should function to lower chronic stress levels and improve outcomes for children, parents, and families.

Within this program model, it becomes important to decide what services, and in what context, should be provided to low-income Latino parents to derive the greatest benefit.

Taking a “Two-Generation Approach”

The concept of two-generation approaches has moved beyond simply providing parenting resources and curriculum support through ECE centers.

It is now widely agreed that two-generation programs should indeed be coupled with high-quality, on-site ECE and child care, but the focus should be equally on parents and children.6,17

The idea is to view ECE centers as platforms for attracting parents into community resource centers that provide access to services low-income parents need.

At these family resource centers, the focus of parent-targeted programs should be on workforce development, which includes education, economic supports, social capital and well-being (physical, emotional, and behavioral health).6 The ultimate goal of these programs is to limit the chronic household stress associated with poverty, which impairs every aspect of child development4.

Limiting Latinos’ Time in Poverty

Ultimately, the chronic stress in most Latino households can be tied back to poverty.98

Latinos in particular are less likely to have jobs with scheduling flexibility or paid leave.99 Also, due to high costs, Latinos are less likely to participate in insurance or retirement plans, even if offered by their employers.100

In 2013, nearly 60% of Latinos were earning less than $15 per hour, compared with 39% of full-time workers overall.103 Only 28% of Latino workers are eligible for and able to afford taking the current form of unpaid, family medical leave provided by FMLA coverage to care for a sick family member or a new child.104-105 Latino workers are the least likely to have access to paid sick days (<50%),106 and are the most likely to lose their jobs due to illness or the need to care for a sick family member.107

Although the percentage of Latinos with no health care coverage dropped from 26.2% to 15.1% from 2013 to 2016 under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), it is still much higher than the percent drop among uninsured non-Latino white from 14.1% to 6.6% in that same span, according to a report.101

Latinos also continued to perform worse on most measures of access to and utilization of their health care than whites, often due to reasons like citizenship status, language, socioeconomic status, and a lack of awareness of the ACA’s provisions, according to a study. Even after ACA, some Latino groups saw poorer patterns of delaying care (Cubans, Central Americans, and other Latinos), forgoing care (Mexicans and Cubans), having an ED visit (Cubans, Central Americans, and other Latinos), and visiting a physician (non-Latino whites, Mexicans, Cubans, and Central Americans).102

Creation of Workforce Intermediaries

A two-generation approach to family support is essential to inform parents of their resources while also providing children with high-quality early education. Family resource centers can be working with parents to inform them of the options currently available to them.

Essential to this emphasis on workforce development is the role of “workforce intermediaries,” which are “local partnerships that bring together employers and workers, private and public funding streams, and relevant partners to fashion and implement pathways to career advancement and family-supporting employment for low-skilled workers.”108

Several randomized trials have shown that workforce intermediaries improve the employment and earnings of low-income adults, primarily through direct links with employers and community colleges where participants gain peer support, coaching, and individually tailored student services.109

Such programs, provided in both Spanish and English, would benefit low-income Latino parents.

How Two-Generation Programs Work the Best

Many other barriers exist to education and employment in Latino communities, including immigration status, work hours, housing, transportation, mental and physical health, substance use, and violence.

As a result, two-generation programs designed specifically to meet the needs of low-income Latino populations must ideally include the following attributes:6,110,111

  1. Staff that speak both English and Spanish, with communication occurring in the family’s primary language.
  2. The organization provides access to high-quality, culturally appropriate early education services, and prepares parents to support their child at home and advocate for them at school.
  3. The center is open outside of typical school and work hours, to accommodate the often variable and off-hours schedules of low-income workers.
  4. A case manager who creates a plan for each family that outlines the services needed, and then follows up with participants to ensure they have been able to access the services.
  5. Case managers who ensure that basic needs such as housing, transportation, free tax preparation services, immigration, health insurance, food assistance, etc. are not barriers to family success, and orchestrate distribution of goods (such as gas cards, bus passes, etc) that solve immediate barriers to program involvement.
  6. The program encourages participants to deliberately connect with each other and with the staff to create an empowerment-oriented community of support.
  7. Ensure that education and employment training emphasize advancement from low-wage jobs to family self-sufficiency and asset-building.
  8. Program staff who have the training and skills to develop a career pathway for each individual that reflects the skills, abilities, and employment aspirations of the family, while being sensitive to individual preferences and family circumstances.
  9. Program provides Latino families with access to community mentors and role models who facilitate job shadowing, internships, and informational interviews.
  10. Health promotion at the center that focuses on well-being, which includes physical, emotional, and behavioral health, ideally offering on-site regular wellness checkups and counseling for every participant.
  11. Program offers access to support groups where families can discuss their challenges with respect to immigration, educational involvement, job seeking, and home environment in a safe and unthreatening setting.
  12. The organization provides opportunities to better understand US culture and institutions through cultural events, civic education, and community engagement.
  13. The organization has effective data systems in place that provide real-time updates on the progress of participants in terms of services accessed and benchmarks accomplished.
  14. The program provides a voice for Latino families through staff that is able to advocate for appropriate services.

In supporting the economic success of low-income Latino parents, two-generation resource centers simultaneously increase their capacity to parent, and thus, the development of Latino children.

Successful two-generation programs will encourage parents to pursue more credentials, more education, and better jobs,112 which will lead to higher income, improved financial stability, and less stress.113

Parents with more education may improve the environment within their homes, serve as better academic role models, and have higher educational expectations of their children.114,115

They are also more likely to be better advocates for their child’s schooling, all of which may help children become more motivated, engaged, and successful members of society.116

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

References for this section »

6. National Council of La Raza. Core qualities for two-generation programs serving Latino families. (2014).

17. Chase-Lansdale, P. L. & Brooks-Gunn, J. Two-generation programs in the twenty-first century. Future Child. 24, (2014).

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).

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).

43. Gormley, W. T. & Phillips, D. The Effects of Universal Pre-K in Oklahoma: Research Highlights and Policy Implications. Policy Stud. J. 33, 65–82 (2005).

81. Vinovskis, M. A. The Birth of Head Start: Preschool Education Policies in the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations. (University of Chicago Press, 2008).

82. Deming, D. Early Childhood Intervention and Life-Cycle Skill Development: Evidence from Head Start. Am. Econ. J. Appl. Econ. 1, 111–134 (2009).

83. Garces, E., Thomas, D. & Currie, J. Longer-Term Effects of Head Start. Am. Econ. Rev. 92, 999–1012 (2002).

84. Ludwig, J. & Miller, D. L. Does Head Start Improve Children’s Life Chances? Evidence from a Regression Discontinuity Design. Q. J. Econ. 122, 159–208 (2007).

85. Garcia, G. & Levin, M. Latino children in head start: family characteristics, parent involvement and satisfaction with the Head Start program. Retrieved January 14, 2006 (2001).

86. CLASP. United States Head Start by the numbers: 2013 PIR profile. (CLASP Policy Solutions that Work for Low-Income People, 2014).

87. Schweinhart, L. J. et al. Lifetime effects: the High/Scope Perry Preschool study through age 40. (High/Scope Press).

88. Campbell, F. A., Ramey, C. T., Pungello, E., Sparling, J. & Miller-Johnson, S. Early Childhood Education: Young Adult Outcomes From the Abecedarian Project. Appl. Dev. Sci. 6, 42–57 (2002).

89. Campbell, F. A. et al. Adult outcomes as a function of an early childhood educational program: An Abecedarian Project follow-up. Dev. Psychol. 48, 1033–1043 (2012).

90. Reynolds, A. J. Success in Early Intervention: The Chicago Child Parent Centers. (U of Nebraska Press, 2000).

91. Weiland, C. & Yoshikawa, H. Impacts of a Prekindergarten Program on Children’s Mathematics, Language, Literacy, Executive Function, and Emotional Skills. Child Dev. 84, 2112–2130 (2013).

92. Winsler, A. et al. School readiness gains made by ethnically diverse children in poverty attending center-based childcare and public school pre-kindergarten programs. Early Child. Res. Q. 23, 314–329 (2008).

93. Sommer, T. E. et al. Early Childhood Education Centers and Mothers’ Postsecondary Attainment: A New Conceptual Framework for a Dual-Generation Education Intervention. Teach. Coll. Rec. 114, n10 (2012).

94. Sabol, T. J. & Chase-Lansdale, P. L. The Influence of Low-Income Children’s Participation in Head Start on Their Parents’ Education and Employment. J. Policy Anal. Manage. 34, 136–161 (2015).

95. Granger, R. C. & Cytron, R. Teenage parent programs: A synthesis of the long-term effects of the new chance demonstration, Ohio’s learning, earning, and parenting program, and the teenage parent demonstration. Eval. Rev. 23, 107–145 (1999).

96. Chase-Lansdale, P. L. & Brooks-Gunn, J. Escape from Poverty: What Makes a Difference for Children? (Cambridge University Press, 1997).

97. Hamilton, G., Freedman, S. & others. How Effective Are Different Welfare-to-Work Approaches? Five-Year Adult and Child Impacts for Eleven Programs. National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies. (2001).

98. Michel, Z. Z. & Ben-Ishai, L. Good Jobs for All: Racial Inequities in Job Quality. (Center for Law and Social Policy, 2016).

99. Glynn, S. & Farrell, S. Latinos least likely to have paid leave or workplace flexibility. (Center for American Progress, 2012).

100. Copeland, C. Employment-Based Retirement Plan Participation: Geographic Differences and Trends, 2011. (Employee Benefit Research Institute, 2012).

101. Warren, M. Getting America Covered Tracking Gains in Health Insurance Coverage, 2013-2016. Enroll America (2017). Available at: (Accessed: 2nd October 2017)

102. Alcalá, H. E., Chen, J., Langellier, B. A., Roby, D. H. & Ortega, A. N. Impact of the Affordable Care Act on Health Care Access and Utilization Among Latinos. J. Am. Board Fam. Med. 30, 52–62 (2017).

103. Henry, B. & Fredericksen, A. Alliance for a Just Society. Equity in balance: How a living wage would help women and people of color make ends meet. (2014).

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106. Ben-Ishai, L. Access to Paid Leave: An Overlooked Aspect of Economic and Social Inequality. (Center for Law and Social Policy, 2014).

107. Hard Work, Hard Lives: Survey Exposes Harsh Reality Faced By Low-Wage Workers in the U.S. (Oxfam America, 2013).

108. Giloth, R. Workforce intermediaries for the Twenty-First Century. (Temple University Press, 2005).

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