somali girlChild Care Choices of Parents of
English Language Learners

Funded by the US Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children, Youth and Families, Office of Policy, Research and Evaluation

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Existing research demonstrates that attending a quality early care and education program significantly raises the English-language proficiency and increases reading and math scores for ELL children. These programs can link immigrant and refugee parents to employment, health and other social services, and help with parenting, ESL, and literacy skills. They can also provide a way to track children's development and emotional well-being and connect them, if needed, with early intervention services. However, what existing research does not tell us is why, even with these positive results, there are lower enrollment rates of ELL children in early care and education programs.

Unfortunately, the results of our study show that there are no easy answers to this question. Families make decisions about child care from culturally constructed views and beliefs that cannot be neatly organized and presented as a comprehensive response to the issue of low enrollment. And, as our findings demonstrate, these parents also identify factors shared by parents across cultures. Also, as noted earlier, there seemed to be as much variation in beliefs about child care within cultural groups as there were between cultural groups. A better understanding of the child care experiences and concerns of refugee and immigrant parents, an enhanced capacity to serve these families in a culturally sensitive and welcoming way, and greater access to high quality programs are important components of efforts to boost the school readiness of children from refugee and immigrant families. An essential component of these efforts is the development of policies to enable more members of the refugee and immigrant community to become child care providers and teachers.

The findings from our study will help inform policy making as well as the practices of child care providers, and local, state and private nonprofit agencies in meeting the child care needs of the refugee and immigrant communities and enhancing the later school success of young ELL children. It is critical to include the voices of these parents when considering policies that will affect their children and families. We also hope the findings from this exploratory study will help lay the groundwork for future examination of these issues, particularly as they apply to communities with multiple cultural groups, an increasingly common reality across the United States.