Upcoming Publication in Developmental Psychology Journal

by Megan Zhang

A paper by NEL’s Amanda Roy and Cybele Raver, along with Dana McCoy, has been published online! The article, titled “Instability Versus Quality: Residential Mobility,Neighborhood Poverty, and Children’s Self-Regulation,” discusses the effects of moving on children.

In the paper, Roy, Raver, and McCoy use data from the Chicago School Readiness Project to determine whether children had relocated or not in recent years. Previous research has found that moving has adverse effects on children’s development, but the paper takes a closer look at the specific relationship between relocation and children’s self-regulation. In a nutshell, the paper discusses the finding that moving out of a low-income neighborhood is actually protective–in other words, leaving a low-income neighborhood has a more positive effect on children than remaining in a low-income neighborhood. On the other hand, children who moved and ended up in high-poverty neighborhoods worsened in terms of self-regulation. All in all, not all relocations are created equal. The effects of moving on children depend on the origin neighborhoods and the destination neighborhoods.

Read the paper online here. Look out for the paper in an upcoming publication of Developmental Psychology later in 2014!


Dr. Blair Speaks at 2014 Brain Awareness Night

Image from the Urban Child Institute website

by Megan Zhang

Brain Awareness Night is held annually by the Urban Child Institute of Memphis, Tennessee each year highlighting different developmental psychologists who give talks on the developing brain. This year, NEL’s Dr. Clancy Blair spoke about the impacts of early brain development on success later in life. Things like emotional self-regulation during childhood have a strong impact on the child’s future well-being. For example, consistent activation of stress hormones early in life can wire the brain’s response to future experiences, making the brain less reflective and more reactive and impulsive over time.

What are the further implications of this? Watch the video of his talk or read the full transcript here to find out!

NEL Cited in ACF Article

by Megan Zhang

The Administration for Children and Families recently posted an article about toxic stress and adversity in children. ACF is using developmental research to better guide the approaches they use to aid vulnerable children and their families.

The article also cites the Buffering Toxic Stress Consortium, of which NEL’s ABC Project is a member, for evaluating the effectiveness of Early Head Start interventions. ACF’s goal is to improve outcomes for disadvantaged young children by figuring out what parents can do to aid children during times of adversity.

Read the full article here.

Universal Preschool Education: Fulfilling its Promise by Ensuring its Quality

by Clancy Blair

The move to introduce universal access to preschool — in NYC specifically and in the US generally — has added to the groundswell of interest in children’s development. The universal preschool movement builds on years of research indicating that young children who experience higher quality preschool are better prepared for school, have higher levels of achievement, are more likely to graduate high school, and generally have better life outcomes in terms of health, wealth, and happiness.  Research has shown that this is particularly the case for children living in poverty.

Within this overall positive framework on pre-k, however, it is important to ask what high quality is exactly? And if the goal of preschool is to help prepare children for kindergarten, what does it mean to be ready for school?

Experts in child development research have information with which to address these interrelated questions. With respect to high quality, there are some obvious aspects of quality, such as appropriate physical space, low caregiver to child ratio, caregivers who are warm and supportive and who provide children with appropriately complex and rich language stimulation within a well organized and orderly set of activities.  But more specifically, how does high quality help to prepare children for school and translate into better outcomes for children? To answer this, we have to consider the skills and abilities children need to acquire prior to going to kindergarten; and then ask how a high quality preschool environment can best support them?

A seemingly immediate and obvious answer is, of course, academic; such things as knowledge of letters and numbers, of how letters and sounds go together to make words and sentences and how numbers go together in order and in relation to one another.

A focus on academic readiness, however, is really secondary to what many experts consider the essential and most important objective of high quality preschool, namely to help children build self-regulation skills; the ability to focus attention, be emotionally expressive, not be impulsive, and to engage in purposeful and meaningful interactions with caregivers and other children. In short, the objective of high quality preschool education is to foster self-regulation that provides the foundation for school readiness. By fostering the development of self-regulation, high quality preschool assists children in making sense of and building on the academic information that they will increasingly be exposed to in kindergarten and the early elementary grades.  Too much of an academic focus in preschool without sufficient support for a strong foundation in self-regulation is ultimately self-defeating and likely to lead to worse not better school readiness outcomes for children.

How to interweave the focus on self-regulation development with a focus on academic knowledge is the pressing question for research in early childhood education.  The current research available to address this question, how high quality preschool supports self-regulation development, and why high quality preschool is most important for and effective with children growing up in poverty and other disadvantageous circumstances are our next topics. The important thing is to act on what we know to ensure productive and meaningful preschool experiences for children.

Dr. Raver Cited in Washington Post!

by Megan Zhang

NEL’s Dr. Cybele Raver was quoted in a Washington Post blog in an article titled “The New War on Poverty: Tackling Two Generations at Once,” written by Brigid Schulte and published on May 7th.

For the past several decades, America has been fighting a losing battle in the War on Poverty. Most initiatives designed to pull people up from poverty are geared towards children or toward adults, to little success. Even when children receive high-quality early education, they cannot escape the high amounts of stress, insecurity, and chaos that often accompany poverty. So in recent years, anti-poverty programs have been taking a different route: helping parents and children at the same time. This new approach helps parents gain stable footing in new professions while helping children deal with toxic stress and prepare for early schooling. Moreover, instead of focusing primarily on children’s education, these new “two-generation” programs help ensure children’s psychological health and cognitive functions.

The article cites Dr. Raver:  “This approach is absolutely the wave of the future…Ten years ago, we didn’t have the extraordinary research that we do now. The research has really been a turning point.”

Dr. Raver is a principal investgiator on NEL’s ABC Project, which collaborates with the Early Head Start program to aid parents and protect children from the adverse effects of toxic stress. Read more about the ABC Project here.

Increasing the Social Impact of Our Research by “Putting Science to Work”

by C. Cybele Raver 

As social scientists, we’ve been trained to focus on the academic impact of our work: that is, how much does our work change the way that other scientists fundamentally define or approach a scholarly problem? How much does our work break open new ground? This standard is clearly articulated at every step along the path to tenure. Earlier in my career, I was asked during in a fellowship interview whether I hoped to change the field or change the world: I answered that my goal was to “change the field, first,” hoping to take on the challenge of changing the world, afterwards–my answer, though tepid in its commitment to social change, was clearly aligned with the review panel’s perspective: I was awarded the prestigious fellowship.

Now tenured, I can push myself and my work harder to maximize social impact. One example is through our partnership with agencies and organizations at the city and state level. This week, I worked with key administrators at a fantastic non-profit organization, the Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, to restructure their intake interview for families. We focused on inserting a few, valuable questions into one simple form that would help agency personnel to better understand the financial strains that families face. This included questions about not having enough money to make ends meet, families experiences of having to “double up” in their rental housing, and not being able to pay bills on time. We also inserted a few items to capture parents’ experiences of conflict and stress within the household.  These items will help the Lenox Hill staff to track whether and how their services may substantially alleviate the psychological burdens as well as material hardships faced by the families that use their legal advocacy, child care, Head Start, and after school programs. Later in the week, Clancy and I traveled to Baltimore to serve as technical advisors to Maryland and Ohio efforts to assess children’s school readiness at kindergarten entry. Our consultation to that group has led to the inclusion of behaviorally anchored teacher report of children’s self-regulation, including their attention and persistence, as part of state standards. In both cases, the impact on our scholarship may be low, but the potential for making a real difference in the world is within reach. 

What did this involve on my part? It involved setting aside the pressure to maximize academic impact and to really listen to the needs and institutional constraints faced by our policy and practitioner partners. It involved allocating time that I would have otherwise been devoted to statistical analyses or manuscript writing, to provide consultation and support to deeply dedicated colleagues so that they could better help children and families. This opportunity to deploy my skills as a social scientist to to strengthen “front line” services for families facing poverty and income inequality has been the best part of my job.