In Focus: Cultural Competency

Jun 2, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

Policy Statement Advances HHS and ED’s Shared Vision to Improve Access to High-Quality Early Education Opportunities for Dual Language Learners

By: Christina Walker

Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Education (ED) released a joint statement, and corresponding toolkit, to support early childhood programs, states, and tribal communities in promoting the development and education of young dual language learners (DLLs)—children who come from homes where a language other than English is spoken. Because early childhood is a critical time for acquiring language skills, these children are often learning two (or more) languages at the same time.  

Changing demographics necessitate that early childhood programs across the country be able to appropriately serve DLLs, as approximately one in four young children in the U.S. may be considered a dual language learner. According to Census data from 2000, 27 percent of children under age 6 came from homes where at least one parent spoke a language other than English, and 2008 Head Start data show that 29 percent of Head Start preschoolers come from a home where a language other than English is spoken. While the majority (71 percent) of school-age children who are DLLs come from households where Spanish is spoken, overall, DLLs come from diverse family backgrounds speaking a large number of languages and dialects and with varying English language proficiency.  

Early childhood is a critical time to support the development of language skills; and while DLLs may face academic challenges, there are many documented benefits of bilingualism, which suggest support for children’s home language and English is essential in the early years. Young children who learn more than one language starting in their earliest years show improved executive functions such as working memory, greater cognitive flexibility, a better ability to sort out relevant versus irrelevant cues, and improved language skills. These traits are associated with early bilingualism. Long-term, children who grow up learning two or more languages reap cognitive, linguistic, cultural, and economic benefits.

Supporting young children’s language development in both English and their home language is a difficult task and often requires additional supports for teachers, children, and families. Moreover, the early childhood system has yet to fully and universally implement best practices to foster the teaching and development of children who are DLLs. Therefore, as the number of young DLLs grows, policymakers, as well as early childhood educators, should consider the recommendations provided in this policy statement as important steps to better meet the development and learning needs of these young children. For example, states could collect data on the number of DLL children living in their communities to help inform outreach, resource allocation, professional development efforts, and state planning. Furthermore, early childhood programs can ensure that the workforce has the necessary training to support dual language learners and create culturally responsive learning environments. Taking these steps can help support the future economic success of these children, their families, and our nation.

This policy statement is the most recent effort from the Obama Administration to better support DLLs in early childhood programs. For example, it follows on the heels of the proposed changes to the Head Start Program Performance Standards released last summer, which underscored the strength of bilingualism and furthered Head Start standards to implement practices that support dual language development.

CLASP commends HHS and ED on the release of this joint policy statement, and we share their commitment to better serving these young children in early childhood programs and policies. CLASP is ready and eager to work with state policymakers and early childhood advocates to ensure young dual language learners have access to the high-quality education opportunities that they need to succeed in school and beyond. 

Read the Policy Statement on Supporting the Development of Young Children Who Are Dual Language Learners in Early Childhood Programs here >>

Read the Dual Language Learners Toolkit here >>

Apr 21, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

Supreme Court Hears Arguments in U.S. v. Texas Immigration Case: Why Poverty and Early Childhood Advocates Should Care

On Monday, April 18, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that directly affects millions of families and children.  In United States v. Texas, the Court will determine whether or not immigration actions announced by the Obama administration in 2014, known as the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and the expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programs, will be implemented.

These executive actions would defer deportation and authorize work for eligible immigrant parents of about 5 million U.S. citizen children and others with long-term ties to the country. Legal challenges pursued by Texas and 25 other states have resulted in a hold on implementation of DAPA and expanded DACA. As CLASP and 75 other organizations representing the interests of children have pointed out in an amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief, the research evidence indicates that allowing these programs to go forward will stabilize families and stop endangering their children’s overall well-being, educational attainment, and future economic success by removing the threat of a parent’s deportation.

These initiatives would change the lives of countless families across the United States, many of whom have U.S. citizen children under the age of five. These children do not live in isolation. They will live and grow up in communities where their individual success is critical to the strength of our country’s future workforce and our collective economic security. It is important to America’s future to do everything we can as a nation so that these citizen children succeed – and at the very least, stop putting their healthy development and education at risk by destabilizing their families.

A large and growing body of research has exposed the harm that children experience as a result of their parents’ unauthorized status due to ongoing family economic hardship as well as risks to their social-emotional and cognitive development. Children of unauthorized immigrants are also more likely than their peers to live in poverty, which has long-lasting negative implications for their healthy development. For parents, the fear of detention or deportation can cause high levels of stress and social isolation, which have negative impacts on caregiving and contribute to negative child outcomes. For instance, studies have shown that children who did not see their parents for more than a month experienced irregular sleeping habits, more anger, and withdrawal, absences from school, and drops in academic achievement.

Because of these high stakes, the joint amicus brief filed in March detailed the potentially devastating consequences for the Supreme Court justices to consider as they deliberate this case.  Beyond the powerful legal case for the President’s Executive Action, the amicus brief argues the Supreme Court should take into account the crucial stake that this case has in stabilizing the families of citizen children.  If the Court upholds the President’s action, it will be acting to promote the nation’s future success, by reducing parent and child stress caused by fear of detention, deportation, and separation and allowing eligible youth and families to come forward, pursue better economic opportunities, and access educational and other resources for themselves and their children. At the core of the case is an opportunity to support child well-being and family economic security and ensure that millions of families benefit from increased access to opportunity. That’s why everybody who cares about the country’s future success—advocates, policymakers, business and civic leaders, educators—should care deeply about the decision facing the Supreme Court, whether to uphold the President’s actions and provide stability to millions of young Americans and their immigrant parents. 

Mar 9, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

Supreme Court Should Allow Executive Action on Immigration to Go Forward in the Interest of Millions of Children

By Christina Walker and Hannah Matthews

On March 8, an amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief was filed in the U.S. Supreme Court, on behalf of 76 children’s and educator organizations committed to safeguarding the healthy development, educational opportunities, emotional well-being, and economic stability of all children in the United States. CLASP, along with the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Federation of Teachers, First Focus, the National Association of Social Workers, and the National Education Association, led the development of this brief that argues the Court should lift the current injunction preventing implementation of President Obama’s executive action on immigration, known as the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) and the expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programs. This could stabilize families and provide an opportunity to enhance their children’s overall well-being, educational attainment, and future economic success by removing the threat of deportation for millions of parents of U.S. citizen children.

In November 2014, President Obama announced his executive action plan to defer deportation and authorize work for up to 5 million unauthorized immigrants, including an estimated 3.5 million parents with U.S. citizen children. Legal challenges pursued by Texas and 25 other states have resulted in a hold on implementation of DAPA and expanded DACA. Next month, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case, United States v. Texas, with a decision expected in June.

The implications of the Supreme Court’s decision will be far reaching. More than 5 million children in the United States have at least one unauthorized immigrant parent (about 7 percent of the total child population). Approximately one-third of these children are under the age of five. The vast majority of these 5 million children—79 percent—are citizens, and another 2 percent have legal status. These children will live and grow up in the U.S. Their educational, health, and economic outcomes are not only important for their individual success but also will determine the strength of our country’s future workforce and our collective economic security.

There may be no greater trauma for children than separation from their parents. The implications for young children in particular are great, as they are physically, emotionally, and economically dependent on their parents. A large and growing body of research is uncovering the harm that children experience as a result of their parents’ unauthorized status, including family economic hardship and risks to their emotional security and cognitive development. For parents, the fear of detention or deportation can cause high levels of stress and social isolation, which have negative impacts on caregiving and contribute to negative child outcomes. Children of unauthorized immigrants are also more likely than their peers to live in poverty, which has long-lasting negative implications for their healthy development.

DAPA and expanded DACA provide a tremendous opportunity to reduce parent and child stress caused by fear of detention, deportation, and separation and to allow eligible youth and families to come out of the shadows, pursue better economic opportunities and access educational and other resources for themselves and their children, including early childhood services. Thus, DAPA and the expanded DACA program have the potential to improve the educational, health, and economic outcomes of millions of children whose success is vitally important to the future of the United States.

Read the amicus brief >>

Learn more about U.S. v. Texas >>

Learn more about DAPA and expanded DACA >>

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