Home Visits and BabiesBy admin
How does the parenting process of low-income immigrant parents, many undocumented and all with limited resources, shape how their babies learn? When Hirokazu Yoshikawa first started thinking about this question, he was living and working in New York City. At the time, research in this area was spotty, limited primarily to how older first- and second-generation children learned. So Yoshikawa and his colleagues at New York University did what they had to do: They went into maternity wards in the city and started recruiting families for a long-term project that would follow parents and their babies until the babies were toddlers. Four years later, Yoshikawa, now a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is back in New York as a visiting scholar with the Russell Sage Foundation, where he is working on a book using the data he collected. This past winter he spoke to Ed. about home visits, major findings, and why he decided to write a book.
How many families were involved in the study?
We started with 310 Mexican, Dominican, and [U.S.-born] African American families. An additional 60 or so Chinese families were included but followed [only] six months due to high rates of sending [the babies] back to China, though we did go to China to observe the kinds of settings where infants and toddlers such as those in our sample were being raised.
You said it was hard to keep tabs on this mobile group. How many of the original families are still with you?
Yes, low-income, immigrant families in New York are an extremely difficult group of families to track. Of the 310, about 200 remain with us at four years.
Did you notice similarities in how they parented?
They are very similar in their goals for their children’s school success. For example, they all state that they want their children to do well academically and in school.
Any major differences?
Our groups do differ on other conceptualizations of goals for children’s development, such as emphases on definitions of good behavior. More emphasis in the Latino groups on being calm, or tranquilo; more among African Americans on leadership and avoiding negative peer influences. There are also some emerging differences in their social network support, their relationships and involvement with ethnic enclave neighborhoods, and their household budgeting.
What about the children?
We found at 24 months that Dominican and Mexican children’s vocabularies were significantly different in size, but this was entirely accounted for by the Dominican children’s greater exposure to English and therefore their larger English vocabularies. The Spanish vocabularies were the same size.
You suspected that the Mexican families were showing the highest level of hardship, perhaps because they had the highest level of undocumented status. How did this affect parenting?
I cannot assess citizenship status directly due to confidentiality issues. However, in assessing aspects of social exclusion that might be associated with citizenship, such as the use of financial services like formal banking instead of informal methods, we find that these differentiate our groups and are related to parents’ levels of hardship, their psychological distress, and their children’s early development.
The newborns you started with are now four years old. How much time did you spend with each family?
The entire sample of about 200 families gets two or three home visits every year. That includes a bunch of structured interview questions, direct child assessments, and videotape of the parent and child in a variety of tasks.
You also followed a smaller group more closely.
An in-depth, longitudinal qualitative study was conducted with a randomly selected subgroup of 25 families. These families got between eight and 10 visits over a period of two years, with a combination of ethnographic participant observation and semistructured interviews. Each of those visits typically lasted a couple hours. All families also receive birthday cards, holiday cards, etc., in between visits in order to keep them involved.
Did you only observe them at home?
In the ethnography, we accompanied them to places like parks, relatives’ homes, WIC offices, restaurants, beauty salons, viveros — bodegas where chickens and other sources of food are purchased — and childcare settings.
Has it helped to be back in New York where the study started?
Yes. Visiting more of the neighborhoods, for example, gives me a richer sense of the texture of the daily lives of our families.
Why write a book instead of a journal article?
The combination of rich ethnographic data and our survey, assessment, and other results make the overall story of these families — including histories of immigration of different groups to New York, their varied strategies to make ends meet, their accounts of their towns and villages of origin, the daily interactions of children with adults, siblings, and others in their lives — difficult to publish in journal article form.
Photo: Mark Morelli