Supporting Outreach Efforts and Engagement in a Parenting Program to Help Preschoolers Succeed

Questions about effective outreach and subsequent engagement of parents in promising early childhood interventions and parenting programs continue to prevail and puzzle program developers and practitioners. Strategies informed by behavioral economics have proven effective for reaching eligible voters, increasing enrollment in programs as diverse as retirement savings and exercise, and improving attendance to medical appointments. Such behavioral economic strategies have yet to be designed or tested in the context of early childhood education programs and interventions. beELL-ParentCorps aims to fill this gap and interweaves outreach strategies informed by insights from behavioral economics with existing practices used in implementation of ParentCorps in pre-K programs in New York City.

ParentCorps is a universal family-centered, school-based intervention designed to promote school readiness and healthy development in preschoolers. Currently implemented in more than 20 pre-K programs in New York City, ParentCorps includes three key components: a 14-week Parenting Program to enhance the use of evidence-based practices for promoting social, emotional and behavioral regulation skills (led by a mental health professional); a 14-week curriculum for children; and Professional Development for pre-K leaders, teachers and assistants. Unique to its core philosophy, ParentCorps recognizes and builds on the many strengths of culturally-diverse families. ParentCorps coaches support pre-K leaders, teachers and family support staff to reach out effectively to encourage parents to participate in ParentCorps, and more broadly, to engage parents as partners in helping children succeed.

The interdisciplinary field of behavioral economics suggests that the context in which decisions are made, and the availability of our mental resources to devote to those decisions, matters to people’s decision-making, irrespective of their economic status and whether they are parents. The pressures and economic juggling associated with parenting and poverty further drains available financial and mental resources among children’s caregivers. Presenting information and options through different frames, sequences or reference points, cueing the salience of potential outcomes, or relaying the norms or behaviors of others may all serve as powerful low-cost approaches that can support parents’ efforts to engage.

ParentCorps developers and pre-K leaders are committed to improving participation and implementation quality at scale; and designing the program in ways that will optimize parent interest and involvement.