• By Laura Whybra
  • Posted on Wednesday 16th July, 2014

ParentCorps leads minority families in combat against risks linked to poverty

strong>Poverty and the stress it places on parents are key factors explaining why black and other minority children in America’s disadvantaged neighborhoods are at high risk for school underachievement, antisocial behavior and poor health. An evaluation of the ParentCorps program makes the case for providing preventive family support through early years schooling.ParentCorps was devised by researchers at New York University’s Langone Medical Center as a universal program for families of pre-kindergarten children in low-income neighborhoods. Working with children, parents and teachers it aims to reduce the negative impact of poverty on learning, behavior and health. It does this by strengthening parenting, classroom quality and children’s own ability to manage their feelings and behavior.As a program delivered in pre-kindergarten, it deliberately seeks to maximize its appeal to parents with a message that it is about helping children to succeed in school. But ParentCorps also takes what is described as a “culturally informed approach” intended to broaden its appeal to diverse communities. Based on consultations with parents and professionals from Black, Latino and other minority groups this aims to be “collaborative, autonomy supporting and non-prescriptive”. Parents are encouraged to discuss cultural influences. But while they are presented with evidence concerning the benefits of consistent, non-violent discipline, they are left to reach their own decisions about such controversial issues as spanking.Earlier results from two randomized-controlled trials of ParentCorps have already demonstrated its promise as a way of improving child behavior and parenting skills. Following the addition of component for teachers, it was also found to improve kindergarten achievement and children’s potential to perform well in school.Parenting and child behaviorThe latest published study delves deeper into the second, larger trial to find out what impact the revised program had on parenting and child behavior. Ten schools in New York City, educating predominantly low-income Black children, were randomly assigned to take part in ParentCorps or a control group pursuing a usual pre-kindergarten curriculum. The intervention included a 13-week after-school parenting program, led by teachers and mental health professionals, and groups for children promoting social and emotional skills that were held at the same time. Pre-kindergarten teachers at the intervention schools were given specialist training in how to promote and reinforce messages from the group sessions. A majority (88 per cent) of 4-year old pre-kindergarten children attending the intervention schools took part in the program, as did nearly 60 per cent of their parents. Evaluated over two years, until the children left kindergarten, the impact of ParentCorps on parents was positive with regard to their knowledge, encouragement for good behavior and involvement in their children’s early learning. For the highest risk families, the intervention also led to a reduction in harsh and inconsistent behavior management. The trial additionally showed a significant improvement in behavior among boys whose conduct had placed in the top 20 per cent for problems when they started the program. The researchers suggest the program’s ability to shift children away from an “early starter” pathway of antisocial behavior could prove especially valuable, reducing the risks of later involvement in crime, substance use and school dropout.High-risk famiiesEvidence that ParentCorps, while a universal program, produced particular benefits for children and families who were at highest risk is consistent with the findings from other preventive interventions. They researchers also highlight the program’s positive impact on parental involvement in children’s education and learning. These are dimensions not normally targeted by other parenting interventions, just as home-school learning projects do not typically target parenting practices.They add that: “Implications for policy and practice include the need to effectively engage parents as an essential component of early childhood initiatives to promote healthy development, reduce the achievement gap, and break the cycle of disadvantage.”Their study recognizes “the disproportionate burden of poverty, discrimination and violence” placed on minority children in American cities where they are six to nine times more likely than white children to live in concentrated poverty. But if interventions like ParentCorps show success in reducing the risks attributable to poverty, how much more might be achieved for children through a concerted assault on urban poverty itself?*********Reference:Dawson-McClure, s., Calzada, E., Huang, K-Y. Kamboukos, D., Rhule, D., Kolawole, B., Petkova, E. & Brotman, L.M. (2014) A Population-Level Approach to Promoting Healthy Child Development and School Success in Low-Income, Urban Neighborhoods: Impact on Parenting and Child Conduct Problems, Prevention Science, DOI 10.1007/s11121-014-0473-3

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