Start Early. Start well.

August 18, 2016

New Report Urges Better System of Support for Parents

A new report recommends development of a national framework to expand access to the best strategies to support struggling parents.


The report, entitled Parenting Matters: Supporting Parents of Children Ages 0-8, serves as a road map for the future of parenting policy, research, and practice in the United States, said Iheoma Iruka, director of research and evaluation at the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska. Iruka served on the 18-member study committee that authored the 400-page report, which was released July 20.


Under the auspices of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, the report identifies key aspects of parenting that matter for young children and suggests how the nation can best support parents and other caregivers in helping children from birth to age 8 meet their potential. Iruka said that the committee was made up of scholars and practitioners with expertise in child development, law, economics, and child psychiatry, providing further emphasis that parenting and supportive programs for parents require many partners, organizations, and systems.


The study committee—chaired by Vivian L. Gadsden, professor of child development and education at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the Buffett Institute’s National Board of Advisors—searched out effective parenting practices and interventions to support struggling parents. Effective parenting practices noted in the report include “serve and return” interactions that are fundamental to the wiring of the brain (such as returning a child’s smile or other facial expressions and gestures and extending conversations), adopting routines that reduce household chaos in order to support children’s socio-emotional development, and shared book reading and talking to children, which builds their vocabularies. Effective interventions identified in the report include well-child care, center-based child care such as Head Start, and home visiting programs.


The report notes that the network of programs serving parents is, at best, loosely organized, and that many parents need a more coordinated, ongoing set of services, or framework, for support. The report’s 10 recommendations focus on bringing effective interventions to scale, enhancing the early childhood workforce’s ability to provide services, increasing parents’ engagement with their children, communicating evidence-based parenting information, and supporting further research.


Iruka said the report can inform the work of the Buffett Institute, which focuses on improving the learning and development of children from birth to age 8. She pointed out that the information in the report provides clear evidence-based practices and policies based on current knowledge about how to support parents of young children living in poverty or facing other challenges in their families such as substance abuse or mental illness. One of the evidence-based practices highlighted in the report is home visiting, a key approach used by the Buffett Institute in the Superintendents’ Early Childhood Plan to reduce achievement gaps among vulnerable young children in the Omaha metro area.


Read the full report.

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