In my work, I interchangeably use the terms “Hispanic” and “Latinx/e” to refer to individuals whose cultural background originated in Latin American and/or Spanish-speaking countries or are descendants of persons from those countries. I want to acknowledge that Hispanic or Latinx/e individuals in the United States represent diverse countries of origin with unique histories and cultures. Hereafter, I will use “Hispanic” to describe this population.
Over recent decades, the racial-ethnic demographic composition of children in the United States has rapidly shifted, with Hispanic children largely contributing to these changes. Only 9% of U.S. children were Hispanic in 1980; today, over a quarter of children are Hispanic, and by 2050, it is predicted that nearly one in every three children will be Hispanic. This represents a dramatic increase in the number of those who are eligible for early care and education (ECE). In response to this rapidly growing population, new lines of research have emerged to inform and advance practices and policies that support Hispanic children and families’ well-being. Recent studies consistently demonstrate that participation in high-quality ECE programs is beneficial for Hispanic children’s academic, developmental, and family outcomes; and in some instances, such programs serve as a protective factor in mitigating adversity or negative experiences among Hispanic children and families. As this evidence continues to mount, some researchers have shifted their priorities to focus on linkages between Hispanic children and families’ enrollment in ECE and their well-being in the challenging landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic. The tumultuous nature of the pandemic has corresponded with new studies unpacking hardships experienced by Hispanic children and families; these studies are often grounded in a deficit viewpoint. While researchers are building a much-needed knowledge base, the use of a strengths-based view is essential for uncovering protective factors, like engaging in ECE programs, that may serve as a buffer for Hispanic children and families from the challenges of the pandemic.
Thus, through a strengths-based approach, researchers at Start Early sought to examine changes in the well-being of Hispanic children and families enrolled in a sample of 23 Early/Head Start programs within the Educare Learning Network before and during the pandemic leveraging longitudinal data from the Educare National Evaluation. A range of indicators to assess well-being were gathered and analyzed in a sample of 1736 Hispanic children and families enrolled during the 2018-2019 academic year and another 1297 Hispanic children and families enrolled during the 2020-21 academic year. Measures of well-being included teacher reports of children’s social-emotional protective factors, such as attachment, initiative, self-regulation, and any behavioral concerns and family self-reports of perceived stress, resilience, level of family support, and their relationship with their child. Overall, findings showed that Hispanic children enrolled in Educare schools during the pandemic, received higher teacher ratings of their social-emotional skills than Hispanic children enrolled prior to the pandemic. During the pandemic, the proportion of Hispanic children rated by their teachers as having ‘typical’ or ‘strong’ social emotional protective factors by the spring of the 2020-21 academic year (91%) was higher than the proportion of Hispanic children receiving the same rating before the pandemic (86%). Similarly, fewer Hispanic children were rated as having behavioral concerns during the pandemic (i.e., by the spring of 2021, less than 8% of Hispanic children were identified as having any behavioral concerns compared to nearly 17% in spring of 2019 prior to the pandemic).
Findings also revealed that the well-being of Hispanic families looked consistent before and during the pandemic. Nearly all family well-being indicators that were examined among Hispanic families enrolled in Educare schools before the pandemic were comparable for those enrolled in Educare schools during the pandemic – with a slightly lower average level of parent-reported conflict for Hispanic families enrolled in Educare during the pandemic. Also, family-reported perceived stress, resiliency to stress, social supports, and relationship with their child looked similar among families enrolled in Educare before the pandemic and those enrolled during the pandemic, such that Hispanic families consistently reported low levels of perceived stress and conflict with their child and high levels of resiliency, helpful social supports, and closeness to their child.
In contrast with other ECE research and the mostly bleak narratives circulating in the media about the negative effects of the pandemic on child and family well-being, results from these descriptive analyses of Educare Learning Network data found that Hispanic children and families demonstrated a variety of social-emotional related strengths. Findings and data from this sample may not generalize to other Hispanic children and families given that these children and families are enrolled in Educare—a model Early/Head Start program demonstrating higher than average program quality. However, changing the narrative and highlighting positive findings related to child and family well-being during the pandemic can potentially inform Early/Head Start and other ECE programs’ efforts to effectively support Hispanic children and families. These descriptive findings cannot yet speak to why this sample of young Hispanic children and their families did not demonstrate declines in these indicators of well-being or how child and family well-being will look in the long run; but they can help emphasize the importance of high-quality ECE and contribute further evidence that positive experiences in the early years may provide a buffer to the challenges faced by children and families, including those resulting from the pandemic.
Find information about research and evaluation within the Educare Learning Network at educareschools.org.
To learn more about how Educare approaches high quality early care and education for children and families, check out our professional learning opportunities for the ECE workforce.
We gratefully acknowledge funding support from the Buffett Early Childhood Fund (BECF) and other Network funders supporting research, evaluation, and dissemination. The authors would like to thank our Educare schools including the incredible children, families, leaders, and staff that engage in the Network’s research and evaluation as well as the exceptional Network of researchers and evaluators.