In Focus: Cultural Competency

Jun 10, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Improving Parent Engagement Opportunities For Refugee and Immigrant Families In Early Childhood Programs

By Christina Walker

A new report from the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) highlights the significant obstacles immigrant and refugee populations face as they try to engage in their children’s education. For immigrant families, severe economic barriers are often compounded by low literacy levels or limited English proficiency (LEP), making participation in a child’s learning difficult. Early childhood programs are challenged, too, in meeting the needs of a rapidly growing number of immigrant parents with young children.

One issue identified in the report is the lack of dedicated federal funding to support immigrant families and their unique needs. Therefore, even something as basic as addressing language barriers through translation services can be difficult for programs to plan for and adequately fund. The report emphasizes additional challenges, including gaps in services and limited outreach to families who speak less common languages, as well as school and community climates that are not positive or inclusive.

The report highlights the critical need to address the challenges facing immigrant parents of young children, particularly those with low literacy or LEP. Local communities and programs can improve access to early learning opportunities through outreach and enrollment efforts targeted specifically to these families. For instance, staff should be encouraged to participate in community events, perform door-to-door recruitment, and galvanize parents of enrolled children to promote the programs to other eligible families within their communities. The enrollment process should also be more flexible and responsive to immigration families’ challenges; this can include accepting multiple documents to fulfill enrollment requirements, providing enrollment assistance, and offering enrollment times and locations that are convenient and accessible to the community.  Once enrolled, state and local communities can best engage and build positive relationships with families when their backgrounds are integrated into programs in a meaningful way through:

  • Hiring staff who reflect the families served;
  • Supporting and organizing cultural celebrations;
  • Translating program materials into the native languages of all families;
  • Making interpreters available for communication; and
  • Interacting with the families’ communities outside of the program.

As increased investments offer states new opportunities to expand early learning, state and local communities should prioritize the needs of immigrant families at the forefront of their planning efforts.  

May 16, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Improving Pre-Kindergarten Access for Children of Immigrants

By Rhiannon Reeves

Despite opportunities for advancing school readiness and child well-being, children of immigrants are less likely than children of U.S.-born citizens to access early education programs. A new Urban Institute report confirms that states and local communities can improve access to preschool by using intentional outreach and enrollment strategies and building stronger relationships with parents.

Children of immigrants and English Language Learners (ELLs) are a growing segment of the U.S. population, accounting for nearly one-quarter of all children in the United States.  To accommodate such growth and diversity, communities and states across the country must meet the needs of immigrant families.

Supporting Immigrant Families' Access to Prekindergarten makes proposals for conducting outreach that supports pre-kindergarten enrollment amongst immigrant families and ELLs; helping immigrant families overcome language, documentation, and other logistical barriers when enrolling their children in prekindergarten programs; and building trust and good relationships with immigrant parents and designing immigrant- and ELL-friendly programs. The report includes strategies for:

  • Outreach: To ensure immigrant families are aware of pre-kindergarten and other available options, programs should participate in community events, go door-to-door in targeted neighborhoods, reach parents in places they already frequent such as grocery stores and churches, encourage parents of enrolled children to recruit other parents, and use mass media.
  • Enrolling families: To help parents meet paperwork requirements and streamline the application forms and enrollment process, programs should accept multiple document sources to fulfill enrollment requirements; be flexible in the ways that families can verify their income; create enrollment forms sensitive to immigrant families’ needs; offer multiple ways to enroll; provide enrollment assistance; and offer a variety of enrollment times and locations.  These approaches benefit all families, not just immigrant families.
  • Building relationships with parents: To help pre-kindergarten programs become self-sustaining, programs should engage immigrant families as ambassadors by building trust and good relationships with parents and communities through a welcoming attitude; work with trusted community partners; build capacity for communicating with immigrant parents; address logistical barriers such as volatile work schedules; and build cultural competency that supports families’ cultural beliefs and practices.

To meet the changing demographics of the young child population, policymakers need to creatively address the design and implementation of early learning programs to ensure ELLs are included and ideally served in high-quality early learning programs such as pre-kindergarten. As states consider expanding pre-kindergarten offerings through new federal opportunities and additional state funding, ensuring such programs include and benefit children of immigrants will be essential.

Nov 26, 2013  |  PERMALINK »

Early Education is not One-Size-Fits-All: Addressing the Unique Needs of Dual Language Learners

By Stephanie Schmit and Hannah Matthews

More than one in four (27 percent) young children under age 6 in the United States have at least one parent who speaks a language other than English, and one in seven (14 percent) has at least one parent who is limited English proficient (LEP). Many of these children and some of their parents will learn English while learning or speaking another language. For early learning programs to fully reach their goals of supporting children's growth, development, and school readiness, they must be intentional about meeting the educational needs of dual language learners (DLLs).

A recent report from the Migration Policy Institute identifies particular features of early learning programs that most effectively support DLLs. The report finds a few key elements that influence the quality of early education programs for DLLs including accessibility and affordability, language of instruction, instructional practices, assessment, teacher and classroom quality, and school-family partnerships. When these program and policy components are designed using the research available that supports the key elements necessary, high-quality programs for DLLs can produce positive outcomes for children. Some of these programs may already exist as evidenced by a recent comprehensive review of research on young Latino and Spanish-speaking children confirming that public programs like Head Start and public pre-k are helping DLLs make important academic gains.

Understanding the key elements that influence the success and development of participants and integrating them into policies and program design will ensure that children are able to grow, develop, and enter school ready to learn. The changing demographics of the young child population should spur new thinking in the design and implementation of early learning programs. We must ensure that DLLs are not just included, but optimally served, in high-quality early learning programs.

site by Trilogy Interactive