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MPI Study Maps Major Barriers Immigrant Parents Face Engaging with Education Programs at Pivotal Early Childhood Stage, Calls for Concerted Action at Federal, State Levels
Press Release
Monday, June 2, 2014

MPI Study Maps Major Barriers Immigrant Parents Face Engaging with Education Programs at Pivotal Early Childhood Stage, Calls for Concerted Action at Federal, State Levels

Offers State-Level Data on English Proficiency, Education, Income for Immigrant Parents of Young Children

WASHINGTON — Immigrant parents confront significant barriers as they try to engage with their children’s educational programs during the developmentally critical early years, with many facing greatly restricted access due to the lack of robust translation and interpretation services and their own limited functional literacy, a new report from the Migration Policy Institute’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy finds. The difficulties that many early childhood education and care programs experience engaging with these immigrant parents have been further exacerbated as funding for adult basic education and English instruction is greatly outpaced by the need.

With more than 25 percent of children ages 8 and under in the United States having a parent who is foreign born—more than double the share in 1980—the report’s findings underscore the urgent need to address barriers facing low-literate and limited English proficient (LEP) parents of young children.

The report, Immigrant Parents and Early Childhood Programs: Addressing Barriers of Literacy, Culture, and Systems Knowledge, draws upon field research in six states, focus groups and socio-demographic analysis to trace the unique needs that newcomer parents have with respect to parent engagement, skill and leadership attributes as they interact with early childhood and care programs and prepare their children for the transition to kindergarten and beyond. The report includes data for all 50 states on the young child population and share born to immigrant parents, as well as on the English proficiency, income and education for the parents.

“Historic demographic changes are coinciding with equally historic efforts across the country to expand early childhood services and improve their quality. Parents are a central focus of these efforts given their critical role in their children’s early cognitive and socio-emotional development and their role as gatekeepers to early childhood services,” said report co-author Margie McHugh, director of the National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy. “However, despite their many strengths, immigrant parents often are not on an equal footing with native-born parents given gaps in their literacy, English language and U.S. culture and systems knowledge; addressing these gaps is an urgent challenge for policymakers and front-line programs in the early childhood arena.”

Forty-five percent of immigrant parents of U.S. children ages 8 and under are low income, and 47 percent are LEP. And immigrant parents of young children are more than twice as likely as native-born parents to have less than a high school diploma or equivalent, representing 45 percent of all parents of young children who are low educated.

The report finds that early childhood programs lack institutional partners that address parents’ need for language, literacy, culture and systems knowledge, given the “severely limited” capacity of the U.S. adult education system to reach low-literate and LEP parents and the lack of support within early childhood education and care (ECEC) programs to meet these needs.

“Low parental education levels represent a significant risk factor for young children of immigrants given that maternal educational attainment is closely linked with education outcomes for children,” said MPI Policy Analyst Maki Park, who co-authored the report. “Limited adult education opportunities for these parents hinder their ability to engage in their children’s early learning experiences, and also restrict their participation in dual-generation strategies that seek to improve family economic stability and parent and child outcomes through skill- and wealth-building strategies.”

The authors offer a range of recommendations, including:

  • Expanding targeted parent education, literacy and English language programs, including by creating a large-scale pilot program in the departments of Health and Human Services and Education focused on low-literate and LEP parents of young children. At a time when the adult education system’s capacity is both greatly reduced and increasingly focuses on students who seek to gain career advancement or transition to post-secondary education, innovative state and local efforts should be supported and tested in order to provide direction for future expanded federal investments.
  • Leveraging state efforts to expand their early childhood education and care infrastructure and policymaking, by ensuring that parent skill, education and engagement support is included as a critical priority in the expansion of state pre-K programs and implementation of Quality Rating Improvement Systems, particularly in underserved communities.
  • Improving data collection prior to kindergarten entry regarding the needs of newcomers, particularly by mapping parents’ levels of education and language proficiency, as well as their children’s Dual Language Learner (DLL) status. Absent such information, key needs of the growing immigrant population remain largely invisible to policymakers.

“High rates of immigration have transformed the demographics of the country’s young families. This places the early childhood field on the front line of efforts that are essential to meet the integration needs of foreign-born parents, and to support them in their efforts to ensure educational success for their children,” McHugh said. “However, as this report demonstrates, the early childhood field alone cannot meet these needs—a range of cross-agency efforts are needed to help many of these parents fill gaps in their cultural and systems knowledge and build language and literacy skills, and thereby place them on an even footing with others in supporting their children’s kindergarten readiness and future school success.”

The report is funded through a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Read it at: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/immigrant-parents-early-childhood-programs-barriers

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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels. MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy is a crossroads for elected officials, researchers, state and local agency managers, grassroots leaders and activists, local service providers and others who seek to understand and respond to the challenges and opportunities today’s high rates of immigration create in local communities. For more on the Center’s work, visit www.migrationpolicy.org/integration.