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Improving Supports for Parents of Young Children
State-level Initiatives

Authors: Louisa Higgins, Shannon Stagman, and Sheila Smith
Publication Date: September 2010

This is an excerpt from the full report.

Introduction

Most states are working to strengthen supports for young children’s health and development across the different systems that affect family and child wellbeing. Increasingly, efforts to support parenting are an important focus of this work. While states’ strategies are varied, most strive to provide families with information and access to programs that help parents keep their children safe and healthy while nurturing their development and promoting their school readiness.

These efforts make a great deal of sense in view of growing evidence that parents and young children can benefit in many ways from parent education, and that children in families experiencing economic hardship are at higher risk of poor health and educational outcomes in the absence of parenting supports. New federal funding for home-visiting programs, along with the cross-systems planning being carried out by states’ Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems (ECCS) initiatives and Early Childhood Advisory Councils, create new opportunities for states to strengthen supports for parents with young children.

At the same time, this area of work is likely to pose special challenges for states. One challenge is the still limited evidence concerning effective programs. Another is that stakeholders may lack information about the full array of existing programs in their state and the extent to which these programs are meeting the needs of different types of families. States also face the complex task of identifying resources and opportunities in different systems that could be marshaled to strengthen parenting supports along the continuum from promotion to intervention.

This issue brief presents information that states can use as they address these challenges and opportunities. The following sections present:

  • highlights from research that links parenting to child outcomes;
  • questions to guide decisions about programs that could address different families’ needs in a state or territory;
  • efforts by four states to establish specific goals related to parenting supports and to make progress toward achieving those goals; and
  • recommendations for state-level work in this area that reflect current research and states’ experience.