Issue 1, January 2014

Developmental Illiteracy of Young Children’s Caregivers Is a Risk Factor for Child Outcome

High quality caregiving is essential to support developmental processes and build school readiness skills for every young child. Developmental literacy of caregivers is a major contributing factor supporting young children’s development in physical/neurobiological, motor, regulatory, somato-sensory,  social/emotional, relational, verbal and nonverbal communication, and cognitive domains.

Child abuse and neglect, and multiple placements in foster care are among the risk factors curtailing young children’s development.  Developmental illiteracy of caregivers of young children in the child welfare system places them at additional developmental risks and poor educational outcomes.

Supporting school readiness skills for infants, among the many activities, caregivers engage in verbal reciprocity and communication with the infant through repetitive patterns of sounds, gestures and words to improve verbal skills and language. They provide opportunities of “teachable moments” and exploration using toys and every-day objects.

In the example below, I try to demonstrate how developmental illiteracy of caregivers in the child welfare system has endangered developmental processes of young children in their care.

Fay is 15 months old this week but she cannot sit steadily, cannot hold her head up or crawl without falling or rolling over. She cannot stand up, and does not say a word. This is Fay’s third foster home.

I met Fay in her first foster home when she was two months old, removed from the care of her biological parents, with 2-hours per week visitation rights. During the four months Fay was there, anytime I visited her I observed an image of a caring, attentive, and engaging caregiver, and a child-caregiver dyadic relationship between Fay and her foster mother (FM), which proved to be supportive of Fay’s developmental processes. Fay advanced in all developmental “milestones” for her age. She was able to hold her bottle, roll over, hold her head up, smile and make various vocalizations. She mimicked facial expressions and sounds her FM and I made. She enjoyed playing with age appropriate toys her FM provided for her. Her eyes were alert and curious. She began to grow teeth, and was able to sit with support.  When held up, she put her feet down strong.

When six months old, Fay was placed in a “kinship care”, as it is preferred by the children’s courts and the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) to that of non-kin foster care placements.

Fay’s second foster parents were working full-time. She was placed in a day-care center with 14 other young children. Fay began to show gradual but consistent developmental regression in all developmental domains.

Fay was one year old when the second foster parents decided that they could no longer care for her, and requested DCFS to remove her.  By then, she could no longer hold her head up, roll over, or hold her milk bottle.

Fay and her one year older brother were placed in another foster home – the third for Fay in less than one year. Four other children and FM’s own grandson lived there already; all three years old or younger. Anytime I arrived there, most of them were in front of a large size TV, watching regular adult programs, with Fay strapped in her car-seat on the floor, facing TV, or in a corner, alone in her play-pan.

When I walked in two weeks ago for my weekly intervention at her current foster home, as it has been for the past three months, Fay was in her car-seat, facing the TV, asleep. FM announced that “Fay is fine. You should treat her brother. He doesn’t listen to me.” He wanted to sit on the floor next to Fay watching TV. When once again I brought to her attention that Fay and other young children need human contact not TV as a baby sitter, she began to cancel my weekly home visitation sessions, stating that Fay was “doing fine.”  She was calm and quiet, sleeping most of the time, and thus there was no need for “infant mental health” services.