Children who are raised in poor households face multiple risk factors that hinder their well-being, particularly with regards to their cognitive and social-emotional development(Brooks-Gunn & Duncan, 1997; Guo, 2000; Kagan, 2009; Magnuson, 2013; Mayer, 2006; Ruhm & Waldfogel, 2011; Sylva et al., 2005). However, research shows that the effects of poverty on children’s development are not always direct, and operate through other factors that mediate the harmful effects of early deprivation (Guo & Harris, 2002). More specifically, factors such as warm parenting style, cognitive stimulation, the physical environment at home, and high-quality early childhood education programs (ECE) are important for disadvantaged children’s developmental outcomes and mediate the harmful effects of being poor early in life (Guo & Harris, 2002; Linver, Brooks-Gunn & Kohen, 2002).Additionally, as shown by the evidence, children who are exposed to warm parenting and stimulating activities at home and who participate in ECE programs have good developmental outcomes despite being raised in poor circumstances (Guo & Harris, 2002;Keernan & Huerta, 2008).Although issues related to child poverty have been studied a lot, the literature on mediating mechanisms that reduce the impact of poverty on children’s development is limited.The current study aims to fill that gap by testing following hypotheses 1) Participation in ECE mediates the effects of poverty on children’s cognitive developmental outcomes 2) Warm parenting mediates the effects of poverty on children’s cognitive developmental outcomes 3) Cognitive stimulation at home mediates the effects of poverty on children’s cognitive developmental outcomes
Two waves of the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well Being (NSCAW II) were used to conduct a secondary data analysis. NSCAW II targets children that have been involved with CSW at some point of their lives. The sample was restricted to children ages 3 to 5 who lived with their biological mothers in both waves and who participated in ECE (n=422). The causal mediation analysis was used to test all hypotheses.First, the association between poverty and each mediating variable was tested. Second, direct and indirect (via mediators) paths from poverty to children’s cognitive outcomes were examined by controlling for a range of mother and child demographics.
The findings showed that ECE participation is determined by household income; poverty significantly affected whether or not children were enrolled in ECE (p <.001). The direct path from poverty to children’s cognitive development was not significant (p=0. 33).Interactions between poverty and mediating variables as well as indirect pathways from poverty to children’s cognitive outcomes showed mixed results across age groups of children.
Conclusions and Implications: The findings of this study have important implications for both social work practice and policy. First, the path from poverty to children’s developmental outcomes is not always direct. Second, poverty affects children through other mechanisms, some of which have positive impacts on children’s development and mitigate harmful influence. Therefore, early community and family based interventions that increase poor children’s participation in ECE programs, improve parenting skills and the home environment, are vital for short and long term outcomes of children.