E.g., 03/22/2017
E.g., 03/22/2017

New Data Resources Can Help Improve Targeting of State Early Childhood and Parent-Focused Programs

Commentary
December 2016

New Data Resources Can Help Improve Targeting of State Early Childhood and Parent-Focused Programs

Lauren Stoltzfus/Briya Public Charter School

It is by now widely known that children from immigrant families—the vast majority of whom are U.S. citizens by birth—have greatly increased the diversity of the nation’s young-child population. However, the diverse nature and key characteristics of their parents must be better understood across the early childhood, adult education, and workforce training fields in order to maximize the effectiveness of program designs that seek to improve child and family outcomes.

Children in immigrant families comprise one-quarter of the U.S. population ages 0-8, and even larger shares of the young-child population in many states and localities. An extensive body of research tells us that the future potential of these immigrant-background children to contribute to the economic, civic, and social life of the United States is largely shaped by their early childhood experiences. At the same time, experts promoting two-generation strategies point to the value of addressing the needs of parents and children together in order to equip at-risk families to move out of poverty and into family-sustaining jobs.

The Migration Policy Institute’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy recently published a report that details the key design elements of a range of two-generation programs that are working successfully with immigrant and refugee families. The report finds that while immigrant parents possess many strengths that serve as protective factors for the long-term success of their children, many also face challenges—such as limited proficiency in English or low levels of formal education—that can constrain their ability to move up the economic ladder and position their children to do the same.

Today, as a companion to the national report, we are publishing a set of 30 fact sheets that provide an analysis of key sociodemographic characteristics of native- and foreign-born parents of young children in states with the largest number of immigrant families. These detailed state portraits of families with young children provide a treasure trove of data to assist states and community stakeholders as they seek to target early-childhood and parent-focused investments towards programs that close school readiness gaps and ensure parents have the education and skills needed to support their families.

All of the 30 states analyzed have significant shares of households headed by an immigrant parent: in 15 they comprise 20 percent or more of parents with young children, and they comprise at least one in ten in an additional 13 states. Not surprisingly, the fact sheets show that family characteristics relevant to two-generation approaches differ, sometimes widely, by state. For example, family poverty—a top risk factor for children’s academic and longer-term success—is far higher among immigrant-led families generally and more prevalent in certain states. Southern states have the highest shares of immigrant families with young children living below the federal poverty level, led by New Mexico at 40 percent; rates in Arizona, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Georgia range from 35 percent to 30 percent. The lowest poverty rates for immigrant families among the 30 states are found in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, ranging from 11-18 percent in Maryland, Virginia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

Parents’ level of educational attainment—another prime factor in targeting two-generation services—also varies widely by state. For example, fewer than 15 percent of foreign-born parents in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey have not completed a high school diploma or equivalent, while one-third or more immigrant parents in Texas (41 percent), California (34 percent), and another dozen of the states studied have less than a high school diploma or equivalent. With parental education levels correlated with both their earning potential and their children’s educational outcomes, these and more detailed education and English-proficiency data provided in the fact sheets underscore the urgent need for adult English and basic education opportunities that will improve prospects for the longer-term integration success of millions of immigrant parents and their children.

Education-attainment data for the 30 states indicate another important opportunity: significant shares—35 percent to 51 percent—of immigrant parents across all states have completed at least a high school diploma and/or some college. Providing targeted supports to help low-income parents with these levels of education complete two- or four-year postsecondary degrees could, in a relatively short period of time, greatly improve their economic prospects and the lifelong trajectories of their children.

Many states are working to build high-quality early childhood systems in order to better assure that all children can stay on track and reach their full potential as adults. At the same time they are implementing new federal laws—the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—that are meant to improve quality and equity in state education and workforce training systems. Given the extent of ongoing demographic change across the United States, utilizing data that take into account the share and relevant characteristics of immigrant families is essential to ensure that these efforts equitably and effectively serve immigrants and their children. Doing so will not only bring two-generation success to immigrant families, but also the civic and economic benefits that flow from their success to our country overall, and the states and localities in which they reside.