Child Trends conducted a random assignment evaluation of Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors, one of the largest programs in the United States working with low-income Latino parents of preschool-aged children. Since it began in 2007, the program has served over 30,000 parents/families in 34 states. The Child Trends evaluation of Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors looked at the effectiveness of the 10-session parent education and discussion program on a range of outcomes designed to improve parenting behaviors associated with helping young children prepare for success in school.
Child Trends’ evaluation of the Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors program found positive outcomes in parenting practices that foster key child development areas associated with academic success, as well as increased library use and knowledge about quality child care. Specifically, the evaluation study found that the Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors program successfully led to the adoption of parenting practices that enhance preschool children’s learning and preparation for school. Latino parents participating in the program gained knowledge about high-quality child care and education settings, and improved their organizational strategies and ability to plan and set goals for their families. Parents also gained an appreciation for their role as models for their children. Importantly, many of these practices were sustained over time. Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors successfully enhanced the following behaviors and knowledge base:
* Parent educational activities at home: Reviewing the letters of the alphabet and reading to their child more frequently;
* Approaches to reading with the child: Stopping from time to time to talk about the story with the child and reading with an expressive and enthusiastic voice;
* Library use: Checking out children’s materials to take home;
* Knowledge about aspects of child care quality: Understanding the importance of child care providers reading to children every day, teaching them how to play with others and providing healthy snacks; and
* Family organization and planfulness: Developing plans to reach family goals for their children and taking time to respond appropriately to children’s behavior.
“Child Trends’ evaluation of the Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors program reveals how, with relatively few resources, a culturally-informed and well-managed effort can improve parenting behaviors that benefit pre-school aged children as they start their academic journey,” said Kristin Anderson Moore, Child Trends senior scholar and lead author of the report. “Research has found that the road to educational success begins with the parents at home before children begin school, and we know that children’s educational success is central to ensuring a future healthy society,”she added.
Studies find that kindergartners who enter school with basic knowledge of arithmetic and reading are more likely to fair well in elementary school. Less than one in five Latino children ages three to six recognizes the 26 letters of the alphabet compared to more than one in three black and white children, for example. Studies also find that students’ school grades in elementary and middle school are good predictors of school completion. Although Latino high school dropout rates have declined over the past ten years, they are still higher than all other racial/ethnic groups.
“All parents want their child to succeed. Research has found that parenting practices can make a big difference in preparing preschool aged children for school success. The Child Trends’ evaluation study of our program identifies what works best, helping us ensure that we use tested, effective strategies to continue to enhance our training program,” said Sandra Gutierrez, national director of the Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors program.
In this study, other behavioral outcomes such as employing healthier lifestyle changes, fostering children’s emotional development, and advocating for their child, the Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors program did not record significant behavioral changes. Focus group discussions with the parents provided cultural and programmatic context for the findings. The evaluators explained that, according to the parents, it may be that they more readily exhibited behavioral changes related to parental support for educational outcomes in the home since these changes aligned well with their educational aspirations for their children and the cultural value of “familismo,” which, among other things, stresses the importance of family and parental adherence to being responsible for their children. At the same time, parents were less likely to apply the tools they learned in the program related to healthy living and advocacy because these did not align with their habits, economic resources and/or their perceived cultural roles and norms.
“The beauty of evaluation studies is that they facilitate evidence-based planning of programs and contribute valuable information to the field by identifying what works best. Communications research has consistently found that behaviors are hard to change, especially within a short period of time. It is of note that the Child Trends’ evaluation found that parents in the Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors program made important behavioral changes to foster their children’s learning and many of these changes were sustained over time,” explained Federico Subervi, member of the Child Trends Hispanic Institute’s Advisory Council and communication scholar at Kent State University.