Involvement of Low-Income Single Caregivers in Child-Focused Early Intervention Services: Implications for Caregiver-Child Interaction*

Article excerpt

Involving caregivers in their children's services often is assumed to make the delivery of child-focused services more effective. We examined the relation of caregiver involvement in children's early intervention programs (EIPs) with caregiver-child interaction. Participants were 99 low-income single caregivers whose children (< or = 40 months old) were enrolled in EIPs that provided opportunities for caregiver involvement. The results confirmed that caregivers who were more engaged, with the programs (as rated by program staff) were more likely to demonstrate more responsiveness in interactions with their children. However, the frequency of participation or number of different types of activities at the EIPs in which they engaged were not significantly related to caregiver-child interaction. Implications are discussed for enhancing supportive and collaborative relationships between, caregivers and providers.

Key Words: child, family, intervention, low-income, parent-child, services.

(Family Relations, 2004, 53, 210-218)

Caregivers are increasingly recognized by early care practitioners and policy makers as partners in the delivery of child-focused services (Bruder, 2000; Dunst, 2000). In addition to the right that parents have to be informed and involved in their children's services (e.g., Public Law 94-142), caregiver involvement is assumed to benefit a young child's well-being. This assumption is based in part upon the belief that if caregivers become more emotionally and verbally responsive in their interactions with their children, these children are more likely to have better developmental outcomes (Aimworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978; Bradley et al., 1994; Bradley, Burchinal, & Casey, 2001). The inclusion of caregivers in early intervention is consistent with emerging developmental contextualism and ecological approaches to intervention (Lerner, Castellino, Terry, Villarruel, & McKinney, 1995).

There remains little empirical evidence for the importance of caregiver involvement in early intervention programs (EIPs); mostly assumptions, beliefs, and inferences exist. Available research leaves unanswered questions about the role of caregiver involvement in child-focused early intervention services. For example, some early intervention research brings into question the relative merits of involving caregivers in services (Knowlton & Mulanax, 2001; Palmer & Andersen, 1997; White, Taylor, & Moss, 1992). Because child-focused early interventions result in improvements in developmental outcomes (Guralnick, 1998; Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000), some question whether sufficient additional gains are achieved by targeting intervention resources for caregiver involvement (e.g., Innocenti, Hollinger, Escobar, & White, 1993).

More recently, research findings suggest that caregiver involvement brings about changes in the child's social and family environment that may moderate the impact of child-focused interventions and provide mechanisms to ensure longterm change and maintenance of developmental gains (Brooks-Gunn, Leventhal, & Duncan, 2000; Hart, Olsen, Robinson, & Mandleco, 1997; Lamb-Parker et al., 1997). For example, after reviewing four early intervention evaluation studies, Mahoney, Boyce, Fewell, Spiker, and Wheeden (1998) concluded that mother-child interaction, specifically the mother's levels of responsiveness, moderated the impact of early intervention with at-risk children and children with disabilities. Bradley et al. (2001) reached a similar conclusion. Therefore, based upon available research, it appears that a combination of caregiver-directed interventions, along with child-focused services, is most apt to prevent developmental problems over time (Heinicke, 1995; Mahoney et al., 1998; Ramey et al., 1992; Ramey et al., 2000; Shonkoff, Hauser-Cram, Krauss, & Upshur, 1992).

For EIPs working with low-income families, caregiver/program involvement is a greater challenge than when working with middle- and upper-income families with children with disabilities and or developmental delays (i. …