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About Family Involvement Research Digests

Harvard Family Research Project's (HFRP) Family Involvement Research Digests summarize research written and published by non-HFRP authors and/or written by HFRP authors but published by organizations other than HFRP.  For more information about the research summarized int his digest, please contact the authors at the addresses below.  For help citing this article, click here.

Research Background

First 5 California is a statewide initiative designed to provide all children prenatal to five years of age with a comprehensive, integrated system of early childhood development services on a community-by-community basis. By funding1 a range of services and coordinating activities across agencies, First 5 attempts to improve child health, child development, family functioning, and systems of care (see text box).

To ensure that California's children are ready to succeed in school and life by the time they enter kindergarten, First 5 California launched the School Readiness (SR) Initiative in 2001. The SR Initiative targets high-priority schools that serve communities with high levels of poverty and ethnic diversity.

The SR Initiative considers school readiness according to three important areas: children's readiness for school, schools' readiness for children, and family and community supports that promote children's readiness (NEGP, 1997a, 1997b). Moreover, school readiness goes beyond a focus on early literacy and preacademic skills. It acknowledges that health, physical development, and social-emotional and behavioral skills of young children are also integral parts of school readiness.

Research Methods

To document changes over time in children's school readiness in schools participating in First 5 California's SR Initiative, the First 5 statewide evaluation contractor (SRI International) developed an assessment, the Kindergarten Entry Profile (KEP), that provides a biennial snapshot of children's developmental skills and of family and community supports.2

The KEP included two data sources: a teacher-completed checklist of children's mastery of developmental skills at kindergarten entry and a family phone interview. The teacher-completed checklist3 included items about dimensions of children's readiness for school, including cognition and general knowledge, communicative skills, emotional well-being and social competence, and approaches to learning. The family interview included items about children's health and physical development, parents' concerns about their child's development, preschool and home literacy practices prior to kindergarten, kindergarten transition activities, and family demographic information. Family interviews were conducted in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, and Hmong.

Data were collected in the fall of 2004 on kindergarten children in 113 high-priority schools in 45 counties in California. Schools in California were designated as high priority if they were in the bottom third of scores on the Academic Performance Index (API) in the 1999–2000 school year. A total of 8,170 teacher checklists were completed and 6,210 family interviews were conducted.

First 5 California has focused
most of its efforts on:

Improving Family Functioning

• Connecting families with existing community health and social resources

• Providing parenting education (including distributing the Kit for New Parents)

• Conducting early education programs for children, alone or with parents

Improving Health

• Increasing health care access through health insurance enrollment and providing preventive health services

• Providing nutrition assessment and education

Improving Systems of Care

• Coordinating multiple services that families receive.

• Educating parents about child safety and injury prevention

• Transporting geographically isolated families to needed services

Improving Child Development

• Conducting developmental screenings and assessments to identify children with disabilities and other special needs early

• Supporting parents and other caregivers in creating healthy and positive early education environments for children's development

• Involving parents and children in activities that promote early literacy

Research Findings

Results from the KEP highlight three main findings: a) The SR Initiative is serving some of the most needy children in the state; b) children's health, parental concerns, preschool participation, and family literacy are all linked to children's outcomes; and c) parenting education and support services promote activities that lead to increased school readiness.

  1. SR Initiative is serving some of the neediest children in the state.
    The SR Initiative has identified and is serving some of the neediest young children in the state. Compared with the general population of children in the United States, children served by the SR Initiative are more often:

    • Latino (77% vs. 51% among all California kindergartners, compared with 19% nationally)

    • English learners (57% have a primary language other than English, predominantly Spanish, compared with 11% nationally)

    • Cared for by a mother who did not graduate high school or obtain a GED certificate (47% compared with 13% nationally; 25% of mothers had less than an eighth-grade education)

    • Living in low-income households (67% with annual household incomes of less than $30,000, compared with 31% nationally), and about half (56%) of the families are receiving some form of public assistance

    • Living in households with large family size (55% have five or more household members, compared with 42% of families with kindergartners nationally)

    Moreover, compared with children nationally, twice as many children attending these schools were in poor health (7% vs. 4%). Nearly half (49%) had parents with unaddressed concerns about their children's development, school readiness skills, and behavior. Only one-third of children entering kindergarten in California's low-performing schools have almost or fully mastered the skills known to be important for school success and for a successful transition to kindergarten. Finally, about one-quarter (23%) of parents reported that their children's transition to kindergarten was difficult, another indicator that children may have trouble succeeding in school when they enter kindergarten.

  2. Children's health, parental concerns, preschool participation, and family literacy are all linked to children's outcomes.
    Regardless of household income and mother's educational level, the following features were linked to children's competences needed to succeed in school:

    • Good health. Children who are in good or excellent health have better mastery of the skills needed to succeed in school and make better transitions to kindergarten than do children who are in poor or fair health.4

    • Parental concerns. Children whose parents are concerned about their children's development experience more difficult transitions to kindergarten and are less prepared for school than other children.5

    • Preschool participation. Children who participated regularly in preschool programs before attending kindergarten have significantly better mastery of key developmental competencies than children who did not participate in such programs.6

    • Family literacy. Children whose families regularly read to them and engage in other literacy activities have higher mastery of the skills needed for school than do other children and have an easier transition to kindergarten.7

  3. Parenting education and support services promote activities that lead to increased school readiness.
    Parents receiving education and support services increased the likelihood that their children received developmental screenings, had regular doctors and medical homes, and participated in an early childhood education programs—all important predictors of school readiness.8
  4. Compared with those who did not receive parenting support services, families who did were more likely to:

    • Have children who attended an early childhood education program (67% vs. 56%)

    • Have children who received a developmental screening (75% vs. 64%)

    • Have regular health care homes for their children (76% vs. 71%)

    • Have children who were receiving needed special education services at kindergarten entry (12% vs. 7%)

    These benefits are especially striking because mothers who received parenting support services tended to have fewer years of education and lower incomes than those who did not. These findings show that parenting services are reaching many families with children who are likely to experience higher levels of risk and fewer advantages and are therefore in need of these kinds of early school readiness supports.

Implications for Early Childhood Practice

This study supports First 5 California's decision to invest in family support and education services as an effective way to promote children's school readiness. Communities need strong family support and education programs that improve children's early learning experiences at home and that connect families to important community services. In addition, these efforts also require that schools are ready to meet each child's needs and continue to maximize opportunities to engage families in their children's education and well-being in kindergarten and beyond. The following implications emerge for early childhood practice:

  1. Support family literacy and parenting education programs that encourage parents to read to and interact with their children in ways that help their development. Family support and education services are critical for ensuring that children are ready to succeed in school when they enter kindergarten. These programs can affect home literacy, health care access, receipt of developmental screenings, and enrollment in high-quality preschool programs—all important predictors of school readiness.

  2. Conduct developmental screenings, so that children with special needs can be identified early and receive critical services before they enter kindergarten.

  3. Provide young children with high-quality early childhood education programs. SR Initiative programs also support high-quality preschools by providing training to preschool staff on best teaching practices and by funding expansions of existing preschool programs.

  4. Develop health insurance enrollment programs; oral health treatment, screening, and prevention services; and nutrition education and assessments.

  5. Connect families to important community resources and services.

  6. Tailor services to better meet the needs of the families who can most benefit from them. Programs need to be accessible to families who speak Spanish and other languages other than English and to use strategies that build the literacy skills of parents and address the needs of children of various ages. For example, many programs can provide or partner with programs that provide remedial or secondary education, adult literacy classes, and English-as-a-second-language classes.


Glascoe, F. P. (1998). Collaborating with parents: Using parents' evaluations of developmental status to detect and address developmental and behavioral problems. Nashville, TN: Ellsworth and Vandermeer Press Ltd.

National Education Goals Panel (NEGP) (1997a). Getting a good start in school. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

National Education Goals Panel (NEGP) (1997b). Special early childhood report 1997. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

1 First 5 California distributes revenue from Proposition 10, the 1998 state ballot measure that levied a 50-cent-per-pack tax on cigarettes and tobacco products, to programs for children up to age 5 and their families. See and for more information about First 5 California, the participants and activities of First 5, and the statewide evaluation.
2 More information on the methodology and results of the KEP is available in the First 5 School Readiness Initiative Evaluation: Kindergarten Entry Profiles, Overview and Preliminary Results, Fall 2004 report (available at
3 The teacher-completed checklist is a modified version of California Department of Education's Desired Results Developmental Profile, referred to as the MDRDP (see and A reliability study of the MDRDP revealed high internal consistency (split–half reliability; Cronbach alphas) and moderate to high interrater and test–retest reliability (available at
4 More than half (57%) of children in excellent or very good health scored above the median in school readiness, while 48% of those in good health and 44% of those in fair or poor health scored in this range (p < .001).
5 These findings are based on items from the Parents' Evaluation of Developmental Status (PEDS) assessment tool (Glascoe, 1998). More than half (58%) of children whose parents had no concerns scored above the median, while 45% of those whose parents did have concerns scored in this range (p < .001).
6 More than half (59%) of children who attended preschool scored above the median, while 47% of those children who did not attend preschool scored in this range (p < .001). Preschool attendance was higher for white children than Latino children (67% vs. 56%).
7 Daily literacy activity was slightly more common among parents of white children than among those of Latino children (81% vs. 77%), as was reading every day (68% vs. 63%).
8 More than one-third of the families had received some parenting support services since their children were 3 years old. The most common type of service was parenting classes. Some parents also reported attending parent support groups and/or receiving home visits. Participation in parenting services was higher for parents of Latino children than for those of white children (37% vs. 29%).

Shari Golan, Ph.D.
Manager of the School Partnerships Program in the Center for Education and Human Services
SRI International
333 Ravenswood Avenue
Menlo Park, CA 94025-3493

Donna Spiker, Ph.D.
Program Manager of the Early Childhood Program in the Center for Education and Human Services
SRI International
333 Ravenswood Avenue
Menlo Park, CA 94025-3493

Carl Sumi
SRI International
333 Ravenswood Avenue
Menlo Park, CA 94025-3493

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Published by Harvard Family Research Project