Methods: Based on the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-K: 2011 data (n=13,399), 299 children living with guardians were selected for the current study by excluding children living with two parents or single parent. Children’s cognitive outcomes included reading and math scores, and social-emotional scores included interpersonal skills and self-control scores, all measured at kindergarten age. Children’s type of child care arrangements included formal center-based care (n=121, 40.5%; Head Start, school-based care, private center-based care) and informal center-based care (n=178, 59.5%; cared by informal care and those who were cared exclusively by parents). Parenting practices were measured by the frequency of which parents read a book with a child.
Results: Regression analysis indicated that foster children enrolled in formal center-based care at pre-school age have higher cognitive (math and reading) and socio-emotional (interpersonal and self-control) scores at kindergarten age. Positive parental involvement directly and indirectly enhanced children’s outcomes: cognitive/social-emotional scores were significantly higher for children who attended formal center-based care and who received positive parenting than those who did not enroll formal center-based care and did not receive positive parenting practice. Girls, white children in foster care, and children in higher income households had more positive outcomes.
Conclusions: While it is agreed that enrollment in formal center-based care is more beneficial to cognitive and socio-emotional outcomes than informal care, few foster children enroll in formal center-based preschool programs. This is partially due to the fact that foster parents might not know the availability and the benefits of formal preschool enrollment for their children. All foster parents should be informed of their eligible social service benefits, including ECEC programs. Foster parents also need parenting education to help them provide positive parenting practices for their children. The social workers should practice with an ecological approach by considering various factors to identify the needs of foster children and connect available resources, including formal-center-based preschool programs.