Improving Preschool Access for Small Immigrant Communities

Jan 02, 2013

By Emily Firgens

It is widely accepted that high quality early education programs can have a significant impact on the academic, social, and health-related outcomes of young children, particularly those considered "at-risk" such as low-income children, immigrants, and English language learners (ELLs). In our increasingly diverse country, ensuring that these populations have access to high quality child care and early education opportunities should be a top priority. To examine how children and families in immigrant communities fare in Chicago, the Urban Institute has released a series of papers exploring the Illinois Preschool For All (PFA) program and the barriers and opportunities families in smaller immigrant communities face when it comes to accessing PFA. These recent studies build on previous research that describes the obstacles immigrant families face in accessing child care and early education, and strategies states and local communities can use to build their supply of culturally competent and accessible child care and early education programs.

Published in 2010, the first paper in the Urban Institute series, Fulfilling the Promise of Preschool for All: Insights into Issues Affecting Access for Selected Immigrant Groups in Chicago, provides information on the barriers families from Nigeria and Pakistan face in understanding and accessing PFA. The more recent papers build off the first, extending the study to look at the experiences of Vietnamese, Polish, and Haitian families; examining the role community-based organizations (CBOs) can play in supporting smaller immigrant communities in accessing PFA; and providing a summary of the barriers and opportunities small immigrant communities face.

Across the studies, researchers found that smaller immigrant communities faced challenges understanding and completing forms, a shortage or absence of staff who spoke the families' languages, and confusion over the application process and requirements for accessing PFA in a community-based child care setting. In order to tackle some of these barriers, researchers highlight the role CBOs can play in supporting PFA participation among these smaller groups of immigrants. For example, CBOs can provide basic informational materials, facilitate deeper relationships between PFA programs and CBOs to build trust and cultural awareness, and provide targeted outreach to families around PFA participation. There are also more resource-intensive opportunities to provide child care and early education services and PFA programming through CBOs, including two-generation strategies like offering parenting education or ESL classes on-site. States and communities can take steps to target preschool enrollment outreach to immigrant families and ELLs, as well as expand and support a culturally and linguistically competent and diverse staff.

Providing immigrant families and children with access to high-quality early education is not an easy task. However, by implementing policies that focus on supporting young immigrant children and their families, and by building outreach efforts and partnerships within communities, we can make progress in ensuring high quality early education is accessible for all children. 

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