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March 2013Vol. 14, No. 2Head Start's Impact on School Readiness

Children living in nonparental care are at a higher risk for developmental problems, poor cognitive and psychosocial functioning, and lower levels of achievement and school engagement. According to a recent study in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, more than 50 percent of children ages 3–5 in out-of-home care attend center-based early education programs, and 17–19 percent are enrolled in Head Start. The authors of the study examined the effect of Head Start on the development of school readiness outcomes for children in nonparental care.

Nonparental care is defined in the study as care provided by a primary caregiver who identifies as someone other than a biological, adoptive, or stepparent. Data for the study were gathered from the Head Start Impact Study. The authors examined 253 3- and 4-year-old children who were living in nonparental care during one or more of the first three waves of data collection. The most common nonparental primary caregiver was a great-grandmother (66 percent). Children were examined at the end of the Head Start year and 1 year later, and outcomes were compared to a control group of children living in nonparental care who were not enrolled in Head Start. The effects of Head Start on a child's school readiness was measured by preacademic skills, teacher-child relationships, and externalizing behavior problems.

Children enrolled in Head Start experienced more positive school readiness outcomes at the start of preschool than children not enrolled in Head Start. Results showed a statistically significant impact on children's preacademic skills and teacher-child relationships but only marginally significant effects on behavioral problems. The authors note that positive teacher-child relationships can serve as a protective factor for this vulnerable child population.

"School Readiness in Children Living in Non-Parental Care: Impacts of Head Start," by Shannon Lipscomb, Megan Pratt, Sara Schmitt, Katherine Pears, and Hyoun Kim, Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 34, is available for free download: