Supporting Low-Income Parents of Young Children: The Palm Beach County Family Study 2009
During the last 3 decades, considerable progress has been made in understanding the ecological and cultural context for children's development and, in particular, the harmful effects of poverty and its correlates on family functioning and child development (e.g., Bronfenbrenner, 1979, 1986; Brooks-Gunn 2003; Gomby 2005; National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2000; Olds, Kitzman, Hanks, et al. 2007; Weisner, 2002). At the same time, a variety of early intervention strategies have been designed to diminish the effects of poverty on children's development and readiness for school. Increasingly, comprehensive, integrated systems of health, educational, and social services have been viewed as a promising strategy for supporting healthy family functioning and child development in low-income, at risk families (Brooks-Gunn 2003; Gomby 2005; Olds, et al. 2007; Reynolds, Ou, & Topitzes 2004).
This growing body of evidence prompted the Children's Services Council (CSC) of Palm Beach County (FL) to undertake a long-term initiative to build an integrated system of care to promote and support the healthy development of children, with a focus on the first 5 years of life. The primary goals for the Palm Beach County system of care are to increase the number of healthy births, to reduce the incidence of child abuse and neglect, and to increase school readiness, as indicated by the number of children who enter kindergarten ready to learn.1 To pursue this aim, CSC and other stakeholders have developed a set of prevention and early intervention programs and systems serving families and their young children in targeted low-income communities called the TGAs.2 The primary programs and systems designed to support children at different stages of their development are presented below.
The study concludes that, given that the demographic characteristics of families living in the TGAs are the ones associated with children's poor outcomes for school readiness and achievement, CSC's strategy of targeting its services to families in the TGAs appears to be a sound one for reaching children who are most at risk of not succeeding in school. However, study findings to date suggest that some services might not be reaching many of the TGA families who could benefit from them. Although a large percentage of the study families used available food and health care services in the early years of their children's lives, the percentages using other services were much smaller. Modified author abstract.