Child Development at the Intersection of Early Care and Education and Child Welfare
Meloy, Mary Elizabeth
Phillips, Deborah A
Empirical interest in the developmental outcomes of young foster children has surged in recent years, leading to a large knowledge base describing the risks associated with their experiences of trauma and toxic stress, and the potential of foster care experiences to compound or ameliorate those risks. A parallel literature documents the benefits that can accrue to similarly at-risk populations of young children from early care and education (ECE) programs that are explicitly designed to support developmental well-being and growth, as well as the detrimental impacts that can arise from poor quality programs. Despite growing empirical and policy interest surrounding the developmental consequences of both child welfare and ECE for at-risk children, there is a dearth of research at the critical nexus of these systems. This dissertation addresses this gap by utilizing national, state, survey and administrative data to (1) provide descriptions of the ECE arrangements experienced by young children who become involved with the child welfare system, with a focus on those in foster care; (2) identify predictors of ECE experiences including foster parent and child demographics, and child welfare placement type; and (3) explore the relationship of foster placement stability and developmental outcomes to ECE use, type, number of arrangements, and public funding. Foster child age, ethnicity and disability status, as well as foster parent employment, education, and relationship to child (kin vs. non-kin) predicted both the use and type of ECE experienced by children in foster care. Public funding for ECE was associated with more stable foster placements. Children receiving in-home services displayed different patterns of association between developmental outcomes and ECE experiences than children in kinship foster placements. Children in kinship placements demonstrated benefits from Head Start, but other childcare arrangements appeared to be less advantageous. Children living at home benefited only from other childcare. These results have implications for developmental science with regard to the potential role of ECE in mitigating or exacerbating the impacts of toxic stress within this vulnerable population of young children and for policies aimed at promoting developmentally supportive linkages between ECE and child welfare services.
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