Coaching Low-Income Parents Improves Learning Readiness, Study Says


Researchers are confronting how poverty and its stresses can impact children’s brain development, and they’re looking to find out if these factors can also lead to a rise in behavior problems and learning disabilities in kids from disadvantaged families.

Adriana Weisleder and Alan Mendelsohn, NYU child development specialists, would rather head off these problems than treat them, according to Vanessa Rancano of NPR.

Their method is to work with poverty-level parents when they come to the pediatrician with their babies and toddlers. This effort has already reduced fundamental obstacles to learning abilities, such as ADD and hyperactivity, with the results of the interventions having been published in the journal Pediatrics.

Scientists gathered underprivileged mothers and their newborns and separated them into three groups. The first group was given standard pediatric care along with some basic coaching on how to read to kids and its importance. The second group was sent home with toys, books, and informational booklets. Group three received time with a trained child development professional for roughly 30 minutes before or following each checkup.

During the coaching session, a video was made of the mother and baby reading or playing together. The coach spoke with the mother about the positive interactions she had with her child and gave the mom the video to take with her.

Three years later, 50% fewer of the kids in the interactive coaching group who were more at risk showed symptoms of hyperactivity compared with the children who received conventional pediatric care. Though positive, the results were less favorable for the video group as a whole.

The findings did show that an intervention that is fairly inexpensive can work, said the researchers. It would also allow for outreach to a large section of the population, especially parents who work more than one job or who have disconnected phones.

Home visitation is available but can cost between $1,500 and $10,000 per child annually, with video service costing approximately $200. The home services are much more intensive than the NYU model. Families are given 25 to 30 visits a year, each lasting an hour or longer.

David Willis, director of the federal Health Resources and Services Administration’s Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, said:

“The families we serve are some of the most challenged families in the country. To simultaneously have this program that’s likewise focused on promoting positive parenting and brain development in the youngest families is really significant.

He added that home visits are an extremely valuable resource for impoverished parents, but Willis says the program touches only about 1% to 3% of the families that need and could benefit from the training.

Prior research has found that low-income kids not only have developmental delays and learning disabilities more frequently, but also have higher cases of absenteeism, in some cases because they have to work to create income or stay home to care for family members, reports the Parent Herald.

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that pediatric primary care interventions can be a significant part of assisting in the reduction of poverty-related disparities in children’s readiness for school. By expanding these affordable interventions, the prevention of socioemotional problems is possible.