Programs Can Build on the Strengths of Latino Families with Low Incomes to Improve Outcomes

By Natasha Cabrera, Avery Hennigar, Yu Chen, Jerry West, Jay Fagan, & Elizabeth Wildsmith, Child Trends

Healthy relationships that are positive and nurturing support children’s and parents’ well-being. Some parents have difficulty initiating and maintaining healthy relationships. These challenges can be compounded for families with low incomes (e.g., below 185% of the federal poverty line) that also face economic stressors.

In 2005, Congress established the Responsible Fatherhood (RF) grant program to promote responsible parenting, economic stability, and healthy marriage. RF programs mostly serve nonresident fathers, who do not live with their children, and are intended to assist them in fulfilling their roles as parents, partners, and workers. In 2006, federally funded Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education (HMRE) programs were launched to help individuals improve their relationship skills and their paths toward economic stability and mobility. Both HMRE and RF programs have a shared goal of supporting strong and healthy family relationships in families with low incomes by building co-parent and parent-child relationships skills and promoting economic self-sufficiency.

HMRE and RF programs serve parents of all racial and ethnic backgrounds whose children range in ages from infancy to adolescence.1 In 2018, Latino families made up 27 percent of the families below the official federal poverty threshold,8 yet many HMRE and RF programs are not explicitly designed to serve Latino families.5 Most RF programs are designed for nonresident fathers, but most Latino fathers live with their children and partners and already have daily involvement with their families. This misalignment has implications for how programming approaches can improve parent-child relationships among Latino and co-residential families. Similarly, HMRE programs are meant to improve relationships between parents and children, but many Latino parents report relatively positive relationships. To effectively tailor their approaches and strategies to the specific characteristics and dynamics of Latino families, programs should know more about eligible Latino participants’ relationships as couples and co-parents, their relationships with their children, and their financial self-sufficiency—the three foci of HMRE and RF programs.

In this brief we use data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort (ECLS-B), focusing on low-income Latino children and their parents, to examine: (1) couple (i.e., couple satisfaction) and co-parenting (i.e., co-parenting conflict) relationships, (2) parenting (i.e., literacy activities, discipline, mealtime routine, mother-child relationship, and the provision of learning materials); and (3) self-sufficiency (i.e., education, household income, and employment). The data on parenting, co-parenting, and couple relationship quality used for this brief are based on mothers’ reports of their own and their partners’ behaviors. We focus on the early childhood years (infancy to kindergarten) because this period is critical for development and poses heightened demands on parents’ time and resources.12,13 And because the early years of children’s lives vary widely among parents in terms of co-parenting and parenting relationships—as well as self-sufficiency—we explore how these domains vary for parents when their children are infants (9 months), toddlers (24 months), preschoolers (48 months), and in or approaching kindergarten (60 months).

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