Families of Head Start Children: A Research Connection

By Singh, Delar K. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, March 2003 | Go to article overview

Families of Head Start Children: A Research Connection


Singh, Delar K., Journal of Instructional Psychology


The present study looked at the diverse family systems of Head Start children. With the underpinnings of Family Systems Theory, it specifically addressed the following main research questions: (1) Do families of African-American and Caucasian Head Start children experience parenting stress? (2) Is perceived lack of parental competence associated with child related stress in families of African-American and Caucasian Head Start children? (3) Is there a relationship between African American and Caucasian mothers' perceived level of parental competence and parental competence? Seventy families of African American background and 70 families of Caucasian background were randomly selected for participation. The Parenting Stress Index was utilized as one of the research tools. Findings indicate that families of African American background and Caucasian background experience parenting stress which is within the normal range of stress experienced by all of the parents. Further, a strong/positive relationship exists between perceived lack of competence and child related stress for African American mothers and a modest positive/direct relationship exists between perceived lack of competence and child related stress for White mothers. And finally, there is a trend for African American and White mothers with more education to feel competent as a parent.

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Head Start is a federally funded program. It provides comprehensive developmental services to America's culturally and economically disadvantaged pre-school children. The program focuses on children's educational, psychological, nutritional, physical, and mental health needs. Since its inception in 1965, the program has served approximately 16 million children. And more recently, it has extended its services to disabled preschoolers irrespective of their socioeconomic status (Zigler, 1994).

Family is an integral part of Head Start's intervention. Parents are encouraged to participate in program planning and program delivery. However, interrelated problems of paternal absence, low literacy skills, and chronic unemployment prevalent amongst families of Head Start children, often interfere with their active involvement (Leik & Chalkey, 1990).

Despite less than desirable family environments, research shows that Head Start exerts a positive influence on its children's cognitive growth (Levite, 1993). Surprisingly, the positive effects of Head Start differ for African American children. They fade away and they fade away rather quickly (Lee & Leob, 1995). Researchers like Chalkley, Leik, Duane, Rarick, & Carlson (1991) ascertain that there are definite racial/ cultural differences in Head Start's impact.

Reviewing previous research, Leik, Chalkley, & Duane (1991) have noted that very little is known about the impact of Head Start on its children's families. There are some reports of stress experienced by Head Start families (Leik & Chalkley, 1990). And researchers have cautioned that family stress can attenuate the effects of Head Start (Chalkley & Leik, 1995; Chalkley & Leik, 1997). Clearly, there is need to know more about families of Head Start children. Family is a powerful resource (Fewell, 1986).

The present study was designed to meet the pressing needs of current knowledge base. It aimed to investigate the diverse family systems of Head Start children. Specifically, the study addressed the following questions:

1. Do families of Caucasian and African-American Head Start children experience parenting stress?

2. Is perceived lack of parental competence associated with child related stress in families of African-American and Caucasian Head Start Children?

3. Is there a relationship between African American and Caucasian mothers' perceived level of parental competence and educational level?

Research Methods

This section describes the setting, sample, comparison group, instrumentation, and data collection procedures. …

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