Preparing the Way: Early Head Start and the Socioemotional Health of Latino Infants and Toddlers
Since 1995, Early Head Start (EHS) programs have been “preparing the way” for lowincome infants and toddlers to enter school. They combine child-centered interventions with family support to help improve the socioemotional development of infants and toddlers and their readiness to engage in school. During the last decade, many EHS programs experienced a rapid increase in the number of enrolled infants and toddlers with Latina and immigrant mothers (Vogel et al., 2006). In 2006, 25% of children in EHS were Latino and many families served by EHS (16%) spoke primarily Spanish at home (Vogel et al., 2006). Despite their increasing presence in EHS programs, we know substantially less about the early-childhood development of Latino children, especially the children of immigrants, than we do about the development of children with non-Hispanic White or African American parents. While some have studied the development of school-aged Latino children (Dennis, Parke, Coltrane, Blancher, & Borthwick-Duffy, 2003; Pachter, Auinger, Palmer, & Weitzman, 2006), few studies have examined the development of Latino infants and toddlers (Bradley, Corwyn, & McAdoo, 2001; Bradley, Corwyn, & Burchinal, 2001; Malik et al., 2007) and none that we know of have examined the development of Latino infants and toddlers with immigrant parents. The migration and acculturation experience of immigrant parents creates a unique ecological niche that shapes the development of their young children. Therefore, these families and the development of their children must be studied in context. Research conducted on the development of other population groups cannot be simply extrapolated to Latino children with immigrant parents. This chapter examines how EHS programs can promote the well-being of young children of immigrants and ultimately their school readiness by treating the depressive symptoms of their mothers. Our research focuses on immigrant mothers from Latin America who participated in EHS programs in North Carolina, a state that saw a dramatic increase in the size of its Latino and immigrant communities between 1990 and 2000. In addition, our research integrates multiple methods of data collection (survey, observational, and unstructured personal interviews) to illustrate the interrelationships between depression, early-childhood development, and the context of migration and acculturation to life in the US.