During this pandemic, families have been dealing with numerous sources of stress–including unemployment, strains on financial resources, and higher levels of anxiety and depression from living in a time of fear and uncertainty. Young children in poverty are much more likely to live in households where the experience of these stressors is chronic and more severe, independent of the COVID pandemic. Children’s developing brains and their future health may be negatively affected by growing up in these conditions.

Early childhood home visiting programs, including ones evaluated by MDRC that received funding from the federal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) Program, intervene very early—either during a mother’s pregnancy or shortly after a child’s birth—to support positive parenting and family well-being. These programs typically provide three main types of support: direct information and education on child health and development and positive parenting practices; screening and identification of potential needs, risks, and stressors; and connecting families to resources to address identified risks or to achieve a family’s goals.

Behavioral science by MDRC and other researchers shows that engaging in small strategies of change, including relatively simple adjustments such as reframing a problem to make it more addressable, setting realistic goals, and providing reminders, can help gently nudge individuals to follow through on behavioral changes. Not all strategies will work, but one University of Chicago study found that asking parents to set weekly goals for reading with their child, texting them reminders, offering weekly feedback on how they were doing, and providing social rewards (public recognition by communicating success to other parents), made parents in the group that received these behavioral nudges spent 2.5 times more time reading to their child than parents in the control group.

Read the full article about supporting families by Helen Lee at MDRC.