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Learning Social and Emotional Skills in Head Start: Influence of Familial Risk Factors and Teacher Perceptions

Kelsey McCoy, University of Nebraska - Lincoln

Abstract

Social-emotional competence has a profound impact on healthy child development and is associated with numerous outcomes that persist across the lifespan (Bettencourt et al., 2017; Jones et al., 2015). Children enrolled in Head Start are at an increased risk for deficits in social and emotional skills (Yoshikawa et al., 2012) due to numerous familial risk factors across a bioecological framework (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 2006). Thus, it is critically important to support social-emotional learning (SEL) in early childhood, particularly in Head Start where children have an increased risk for deficits. Despite substantial literature on teachers and social-emotional learning, previous research has overlooked teachers’ perceptions on SEL for children exposed to adversity. The current study aimed to: (a) identify the relation of familial risk factors and adverse events with child social and emotional skills; (b) explore teachers’ perceptions of SEL; (c) explore teachers’ perceptions of supporting children exposed to familial risk; and (d) explore teacher perceptions of the impact of COVID-19 in the classroom. Data collected included clinical records, juvenile court records, and teacher-reports on child social-emotional functioning for 103 enrolled Head Start children. Qualitative interviews exploring perceptions on SEL and the impact of familial risk were also conducted with Head Start teachers. Results demonstrate high rates of familial risk and adversity with over half of children experiencing 7 or more familial risk factors and 14.6% of enrolled children having a court-substantiated record of maltreatment. While total familial risk and adverse events were associated with several child social-emotional skills, court-substantiated maltreatment was not. Teachers identified several facilitators and barriers to SEL including time constraints, parent-teacher partnerships, language, staff support, and familiarity. Teachers also identified facilitators and barriers to supporting children exposed to familial risk including consistent routines, parent relationships, and training. Findings provide rich information about the role of teachers in facilitating SEL, particularly for children exposed to familial risk. Policy and practice implications for Head Start and other early childhood education programs are discussed.

Subject Area

Psychobiology|Educational psychology|Early childhood education

Recommended Citation

McCoy, Kelsey, "Learning Social and Emotional Skills in Head Start: Influence of Familial Risk Factors and Teacher Perceptions" (2022). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI29068059.
https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/dissertations/AAI29068059

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