The State of Latino Early Childhood Development: A Research Review


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Many Latino children are at risk of not getting the proper care, services, and environment they need for healthy formative development.

Latino early childhood development - problem - kids behindTraumatic early experiences, poor nutrition, physical inactivity, and low participation in preschool programs impair Latino children’s social and emotional development, academic achievement, and overall health and wellbeing.

But there’s reason for hope.

Culturally-sensitive programs and policies can prevent or reduce the effects of traumatic childhood experiences, improve mental health, and boost school readiness.

Early childhood development and education programs, breastfeeding and family support, and Latino family values support all have been shown to promote healthy early development.

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Introduction and methods. This Salud America! research review is an assessment of available research on the many aspects of child development and traumatic experiences among Latinos. The review also explores how programs and policies can improve early childhood development in Latino children.

Key Research Findings

Latino early childhood development - problem - ACEs trauma manyLatinos kids suffer many childhood traumas. 78% of Latino kids suffer at least one adverse childhood experience (ACE), such as poverty, neglect, abuse, household dysfunction (divorce, violence, etc.). 28% of Latino kids suffer four or more adverse experiences.

Latino kids exposed to many traumas have higher risk of obesity, future health issues, anxiety, withdrawal, aggression, and substance use. They also have lower language, literacy, and math skills, and attention in school.

Latino early childhood development - problem - food, spaces, child care, preschoolLatino kids have limited access to healthy foods and active spaces. Latino neighborhoods tend to have less access to healthy foods, which negatively affects health, development, academic performance, and overall wellbeing.

Latino children have limited access to active spaces (i.e., trails, parks, and recreation facilities) that may prevent them from engaging in adequate levels of physical activity for healthy development.

Latino early childhood development - problem - early abilityLatino children are behind before kindergarten. 42% of kids live in “child care deserts” with no or overfull early care and education centers. Only 40% of Latino kids participate in preschool programs vs. 53% of white kids. Not participating in a preschool program is a main contributor to poor school readiness.

By age 2, Latino kids have less ability than white kids to reason and remember tasks, verbally communicate, and identify letters, numbers, and shapes.

Latino early childhood development - waht's working - stimulating early careStrategy that works: Stimulating early childhood development. Children randomly assigned to stimulating early care from birth to age 5 had significantly lower risk factors for heart and metabolic diseases in their mid-30s.

Strategy that works: Boosting school readiness and learning. Bilingual literacy counseling for parents on reading and verbal interaction with their kids resulted in kids being significantly more prepared for kindergarten.

Latino preschoolers who got individually and culturally tailored curricula for independent learning, had test scores above the national average.

Latino early childhood development - what's working - home visitsStrategy that works: Reducing ACEs. Early screening, home visits and the medical home model can help to build security and resilience in families and help children process and overcome the effects of ACEs.

Strategy that works: Incorporating Latino values. Latino kids’ social and emotional health rivals that of white kids, thanks to key family and cultural values, such as familismo, machismo and marianismo, and religious beliefs.

Latino early childhood development - what's working - early educationStrategy that works: Supporting Latina moms. Programs and policies providing maternal and breastfeeding support and family support services promote healthy social and emotional development and overall wellbeing in Latino children.


Policy implications. There is tremendous need to develop culturally-sensitive early childhood development programs, policies, and interventions that consider Latino family dynamics, and adverse experiences.

Latino early childhood development - policy - cultural sensitivityMethods are emerging, such as: increase spending on early childhood education; promote access to and availability of early childhood education programs for Latino kids; train the childcare workforce to provide trauma-informed care for kids; create “medical homes” to boost wellbeing in Latino and all kids; assess childhood history; and support initiatives that boost access to healthy food and spaces for physical activity in Latino communities. Green schoolyards and outdoor learning environments can boost students’ academic performance, mental health, and social and emotional learning.

Future research needs. There is a lack of research dedicated to barriers to participation in preschool, in-home preliteracy activities, and other early learning interventions to improve school readiness in Latino children.

Latino early childhood development - policy - preschool and eceFurther research is also needed to evaluate interventions for preventing ACEs and mitigating their harmful effects. Future research is needed to identify the barriers to healthy eating in Latino children and evaluate current and new strategies for improving access and adherence to a healthy diet. Accurate census data is also critical to ensure equitable distribution of funding for early educational programs, healthcare, safe places to walk and play, access to healthy food, and maternal and breastfeeding support.


See the Full Research Review with references (PDF)

About the Authors

  • Amelie G. Ramirez, Dr.P.H., Director, Salud America!, Professor, Institute for Health Promotion Research, UT Health San Antonio
  • Kipling J. Gallion, M.A., Deputy Director, Salud America!, Assistant Professor, Institute for Health Promotion Research, UT Health San Antonio
  • Rosalie Aguilar, M.S., Salud America!, Project Coordinator, Institute for Health Promotion Research, UT Health San Antonio
  • Jennifer Swanson, M.Ed., JS Medical Communications, L.L.C.

This report is copyright 2017 RWJF, Route 1 and College Road, P.O. Box 2316, Princeton, NJ, 08543-2316,

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