Family Support Research: Introduction and Methods


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


Latinos are expected to comprise 32% of the U.S. population by 2050.1 As such, the strength and health of this country’s future workforce depends upon the investments made in Latino communities today.

Currently, one-third of U.S. Latino families live in poverty and two-thirds are low-income, with limited access to high-quality education, community resources, and health care.2,3

Recent research has shown that social programs targeting adults as well as children result in the most effective long-term improvements in children’s academic success, health, and future economic stability.4

Thus whole-family support services that address the specific social, medical, and economic needs of Latino populations are essential to ensure optimal development of Latino children and the health of American society at large.5,6

Three approaches for best supporting the development of Latino children include: 1) making high-quality, affordable, center-based child care and education accessible to Latinos, 2) developing culturally- sensitive family resource programs that serve the needs of both parents and children, and 3) changing health care into a system that emphasizes prevention and whole-self well-being.4,7,8

Combined, these efforts provide family and social support to promote the development of capable, healthy, and economically stable Latino children. If adequately promoted and established within Latino communities, such policies and programs have the potential to improve the quality of life for Latinos living in the United States.

Recent reports in both the biological and social sciences have demonstrated the importance of early childhood experiences in the long-term academic and social success of individuals, particularly for children in low-income and high-risk communities.4,9 In particular, the need for high-quality early care and education (ECE) is of particular importance to limit achievement gaps later in life.10–12 Within Latino communities, improving access and affordability of ECE centers is needed,13 as is the partnering of centers with parent mentors who can encourage Latino parents to be actively engaged in their child’s education.14,15 Developing culturally sensitive ECE centers that function within the context of low-income Latino communities will be of paramount importance to supporting the academic and social development of Latino children.16

In addition to providing parenting-related resources at ECE centers, it is also beneficial to develop full-service family resource centers that cater to the general needs of low-income Latino adults, including housing, job training, transportation, food assistance, and health insurance. Importantly, it has been shown that coupling these services with child-related centers or schools has been more effective than providing services to parents and children in independent centers.17 These joint two-generation (i.e., parent and child) resource centers must be highly accessible and inform parents of available community resources, since limited knowledge of what is available is a primary barrier to program use within the Latino community.14 These centers must also provide extensive guidance and social support using dual-language counselors who can outline the services offered and perform individual needs assessments.6 Finally, services for parents and children must be of equal intensity and quality, with as many on-site programs as possible to limit barriers to participation.17 Such two-generation programs show promise for improving the long-term health and economic stability of Latino families. With an emphasis on programs that limit the time Latino families spend in poverty, we can hope the future of Latino communities will experience greater equity in opportunities and achievement.

Finally, in addition to ensuring proper education and access to resources within Latino communities, there must be a shift in health care practices. Not only are Latinos less likely to attend child well-visits or have a general care physician,18 they are also less likely to access health care services that promote complete emotional, mental, and physical well-being.19 While the effects of socio-economic inequality play a role, health care in Latino communities is also affected by the unique cultural and social circumstances experienced by both Latino immigrants and those born in the United States.20 Often, differing cultural beliefs and a lack of basic health education limit Latinos’ ability to live a healthy lifestyle in the United States.21 Many simple policy changes and interventions may help the next Latino-American generation live more active, informed, healthy lifestyles that emphasize whole-self well-being.

When combined, efforts in the areas described above offer the family and social support needed within Latino communities to ensure the best environment for child development.

This research review is designed to outline the existing state of family health within Latino communities in each of these areas, and to suggest policies and programs that may improve the quality of life for Latino children and their families.

To best support Latino children, we must support whole families and the Latino community at large, with interventions that are culturally sensitive and contextually relevant.


This research review summarizes current peer-reviewed literature regarding early childcare and education, academic preparedness and achievement, preschool and prekindergarten programs, early childhood interventions, community resources for low-income parents, two-generation programs, barriers to program participation, access to health care, health care beliefs, patterns of health care use, wellness programs, and medical homes, all within the Latino context.

Within this study, the term “Latino” refers to any person of Mexican, Cuban, Dominican, Puerto Rican, South American, Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race.22 Keyword searches were conducted in PubMed and Google Scholar, using terms such as “early childhood education AND Latino,” “two-generation AND Hispanic,” “medical home AND low-income,” or “Latino AND health care.” Similar queries were made using variants of terms, and using “Latino” and “Hispanic” throughout the literature search.

Relevant articles were examined and used to find further resources. Other sources of research and statistics included government agency reports, non-governmental agency summaries, and other peer-reviewed publications. Searches were confined to the English language and articles selected based on relevancy, independent of study design or outcome.

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

References for this section »

1. Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics. America’s children: Key national indicators of well-being, 2015. (Government Printing Office, 2015).

2. Lopez, M. H. & Velasco, G. Childhood Poverty Among Hispanics Sets Record, Leads Nation. Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project (2011).

3. Lichter, D. T., Sanders, S. R. & Johnson, K. M. Behind at the Starting Line: Poverty Among Hispanic Infants. (2015).

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

5. Wildsmith, E., Alvira-Hammond, M. & Guzman, L. A national portrait of Hispanic children in need. Natl. Res. Cent. Hisp. Child. Fam. (2016).

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

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

8. Beal, A., Hernandez, S. & Doty, M. Latino Access to the Patient-Centered Medical Home. J. Gen. Intern. Med. 24, 514 (2009).

9. Campbell, F. et al. Early Childhood Investments Substantially Boost Adult Health. Science 343, 1478–1485 (2014).

10. Barnett, W. S. Effectiveness of Early Educational Intervention. Science 333, 975–978 (2011).

11. Karoly, L. A., Kilburn, M. R. & Cannon, J. S. Early childhood interventions: proven results, future promise. (Rand, 2005).

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).

13. Guzman, L., Hickman, S., Turner, K. & Gennetian, L. Hispanic Children’s Participation in Early Care and Education: Parents’ Perceptions of Care Arrangements, and Relatives’ Availability to Provide Care. (2016).

14. Crosnoe, R. Two-Generation Strategies and Involving Immigrant Parents in Children’s Education. Urban Inst. NJ1 (2010).

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

16. McWayne, C. M. & Melzi, G. Validation of a culture-contextualized measure of family engagement in the early learning of low-income Latino children. J. Fam. Psychol. 28, 260–266 (2014).

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

18. Pleis, J. & Lethbridge-Çejku, M. Summary Health Statistics for the US Population: National Health Interview Survey, 2006. (Department of Health & Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, 2007).

19. Aguilar-Gaxiola, S., Loera, G. & Mendez, I. Community-Defined Solutions For Latino Mental Health Care Disparities. (California reducing disparities project, Latino strategic planning workgroup population report, 2012).

20. Livingston, G., Minushkin, S. & Cohn, D. Hispanics and Health Care in the United States: Access, information and knowledge. (Pew Hispanic Center and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2008).

21. Juckett, G. Caring for Latino Patients. Am. Fam. Physician 87, 48–54 (2013).

22. Arias. United States life tables by Hispanic origin. (U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, 2010).

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