High-quality early childhood education can save children from the effects of changes in family income

Life can have its bumps in the road and in many situations less income means an impact on how children learn. Education has a task to minimize (and maybe utopian spoken even to eliminate) these effects. How big the effect can be, was made clear by this chart I found last week on the website of the Washington Post:

What does this chart mean? Poor kids who do everything right don’t do better than rich kids who do everything wrong.

Researchers at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, the Norwegian Center for Child Behavioral Development, and Boston College now show that high quality early education can save children from those bumps in the road of life. In Norway, publicly subsidized high-quality early childhood education and care is available to all children, from low-income to affluent, starting at age 1. The study found that children who don’t take part in such programs have more early behavior problems when their families’ income drops.

Do note, I couldn’t read the study yet, as I couldn’t find it online yet. Still I want to share the information, based on the summary found in the press release:

“Our study adds to the growing body of evidence supporting the potential power of universal access to high-quality early childhood education and care for improving children’s well-being and growth,” according to Henrik Daae Zachrisson, senior researcher at the Norwegian Center for Child Behavioral Development, who was with the Norwegian Institute of Public Health at the time of the study, and Eric Dearing, associate professor at Boston College and senior researcher at the Norwegian Center for Child Behavioral Development, who conducted the study.

When families’ incomes (adjusted for family size and yearly median income in Norway) decreased, their children’s behavior problems increased, the study found. Conversely, when families’ incomes increased, their children’s behavior problems decreased. These patterns were strongest in low-income families, so fluctuations in income seemed to matter most for those with the least. Children in both low- and middle-income households who attended high-quality centers had stable, low levels of internalizing problems (such as withdrawal and anxiety) regardless of whether their families experienced worsening or improving economic circumstances.

The researchers drew data from a longitudinal study of more than 75,000 children and their families who participated in assessments from birth through age 3. Family income data were taken from public tax records. When children were 1 and a half and 3 years old, mothers reported on children’s aggression and noncompliance (externalizing problems), withdrawal and anxiety (internalizing problems), and attendance at an early childhood and care center. Children who did not attend a center or were not cared for by a parent or family member were typically cared for by a family day care, nanny, or outdoor nursery (i.e., monitored playground); these settings are unregulated. At 36 months, almost 88 percent of the children were in an early childhood education and care center.

“Even in a context such as Norway, which has relatively little income inequality and relatively strong social supports for families, children in low-income families still appear to be sensitive to acute fluctuations in income, a finding that’s also been demonstrated in the United States,” according to Zachrisson and Dearing. “However, children in regulated, high-quality early childhood education and care centers appear to be protected against the negative effects of changes in income within families when it comes to internalizing problems.”

 

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