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Learning Social and Emotional Skills in Head Start: Influence of Familial Risk Factors and Classroom Characteristics

Research Team


Principal Investigator: David Hansen

Co-Principal Investigators: Kelsey McCoy

Funding Information

Funding Agency: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services—Administration for Children and Families

Award Date: Sep 30, 2019

End Date: Sep 29, 2021


Social and emotional competence has a profound impact on healthy child development, and is associated with numerous outcomes that persist across the lifespan. Because children enrolled in Head Start are at an increased risk for deficits in social and emotional skills due to numerous familial risk factors across a bio-ecological framework, it is crucial to support social and emotional learning in early childhood — particularly in Head Start programs where children have an increased risk for deficits.

This study aims to identify:

  • the relationship of familial risk factors and classroom characteristics (e.g., teacher efficacy, fidelity to the curriculum and classroom quality) with child social and emotional skills;
  • changes in child social and emotional skills from the beginning to the end of the program year; and 
  • how cumulative familial risk, classroom characteristics, and their interaction impact acquisition of social and emotional skills from the beginning to the end of the program year. 
Data on more than 100 children and their families enrolled across eight Head Start classrooms will be utilized in this study. Data will include Head Start clinical records and teacher-reported measures on child social and emotional functioning. Analyses will utilize growth curve modeling to identify how the presence of familial risk and classroom characteristics influence social and emotional learning over the program year.

Findings from this project will help improve the effectiveness of Head Start, enhance child well-being and protect against familial risk factors associated with living in poverty. Research also aims to provide direction for improved fit between classroom characteristics and child needs, as well as insight into gaps in understanding how risk factors influence children’s social and emotional skills and skill acquisition in the classroom.

Early Childhood Education and Development, Social, Emotional and Behavioral Well-being

Research suggests preschool children with increased exposure to family adversity exhibit lower social-emotional skills than their peers.
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