Culture Counts: How to Engage Black and Latino Parents of Young Children

As America continues to become more diverse, educators, policymakers, and researchers are increasingly aware of the importance of culture in improving educational outcomes.

Today in the United States more than four out of ten children are Latino or black. In California and New Mexico, the majority of children are Latino. It is important for early childhood programs to reach the parents of these children to engage them in the education process and to provide them with information and resources to support their child’s development. We know that when parents are more engaged, their children are more success in school and have better social-emotional health. 

The Alliance for Early Success commissioned Child Trends to examine the research on how best to engage black and Latino parents in family support programs.  In October 2014, we published Culture Counts: Engaging Black and Latino Parents of Young Children in Family Support Programs, in which my colleague and co-author, Shannon Moodie, and I summarized recent research literature on:

  • Cultural and contextual factors that affect black and Latino families’ engagement;
  • Strategies for engaging black and Latino parents; and
  • Guidelines to culturally adapt existing programs and practices.

What are the barriers to successful family engagement for blacks and Latinos? We found that Latino and black parents’ barriers to engagement in family-based services can be conceptualized as being “structural” (e.g., lack of time, needing transportation), “attitudinal” (e.g., perceptions of the value of services, beliefs about practitioners), or “cultural” (e.g., mismatch in cultural beliefs between practitioners and parents). Structural barriers are mainly logistical and can be fairly easily addressed. To address attitudinal and cultural barriers requires an understanding of families’ values, beliefs, and cultures, and possibly changes in program or staff approach and practices. Addressing cultural barriers may increase the accessibility of programs and services for black and Latino parents

What are strategies for reducing cultural barriers? We identified a number of strategies that can help programs address cultural barriers to engagement and engage parents, including:

  • Adopting a culturally-informed approach to program design,
  • Adapting existing programs to better reflect the culture of the population being served, and
  • Framing programs and services to align with culturally-specific goals and issues.

A culturally-informed approach to program design incorporates cultural considerations into the development of the program at the outset. It also uses strategies that are relevant to and consistent with parents’ goals and values. Programs that utilize this approach tend to have high rates of participation and positive effects on parents.

Existing programs may use a three-phase process to culturally adapt their programs:

  1. Compare program concepts/techniques with cultural values of the community and conduct a community needs assessment;
  2. Review initial adaptation of materials and strategies with the goal of enhancing cultural appropriateness;
  3. Finalize and test adaptations.

It is important to note that when programs make cultural adaptations that they maintain fidelity to the established model while also promoting cultural relevance. When framing programs and services to align with culturally-specific goals and issues, it can be helpful to offer materials and have staff who can speak in the primary language of the community being served.

Though released late in the year, the Culture Counts report was the most viewed new publication on the Child Trends website in 2014. This positive response reflects the growing desire and commitment of communities and early childhood programs to enhance the support offered to black and Latino families to help ensure their children’s success in school and life.

Manica F. Ramos, PhD
Research Scientist
Child Trends
(February 12, 2015)