Senior Corps Senior Corps Corporation for National and Community Service
Research & Evaluation

Effective Practices of Foster Grandparents in Head Start Centers: Benefits for Children, Classrooms, and Centers. Final Report, Westat Incorporated, Dec. 1997.

An impact study to determine the effects of Foster Grandparents on Head Start Children.

The Foster Grandparent Program evaluation was conducted to lay the foundations for future quantitative studies of the Foster Grandparent Program and the program’s impact on children in the Head Start program. The study examined what Foster Grandparents do in Head Start centers that may contribute to positive outcomes for children; the effects they have on the Head Start children they care for; the practices that hinder or help to achieve positive outcomes; and existing sources of data for use in future evaluations.

Six Foster Grandparent projects, ranging in size from three classrooms and 55 children to ten classrooms and 200 children, participated in the study. The study consisted of forty Head Start classes; three or more Foster Grandparents served each class. Four two-person teams collected data in Head Start classrooms during May and June 1997. Data collection methods included: intensive classroom observation of the four – five year-old children; open-ended interviews with project directors, Head Start administrative staff and teachers; and focus groups and individual interviews with Foster Grandparents. The Arnett Scale of Caregiver Behaviors was used to measure the caregiving behavior of individual adults in the classroom. Use of this measure provided consistency in reporting across sites. Behaviors on this scale are associated with positive development and outcomes for children and include 1) engaging in positive person-to-person interactions with children; 2) developing or reinforcing prosocial behaviors; and 3) providing children with constructive guidance or feedback.

Evidence from intensive observations of Foster Grandparents in six study sites show that the majority of Foster Grandparents engaged in a wide variety of activities and interactions that are associated with positive developmental outcomes for children: 1) emotional well-being; 2) self-esteem; 3) social and behavioral skills development (e.g., cooperation, sharing, positive health and nutrition habits, modeling self-reliance, redirecting undesirable behavior); 4) language development, and 5) cognitive development (i.e., developing or reinforcing preliteracy and numeracy skills and expanding the children’s knowledge base).

In addition, findings from this study show that the majority of Foster Grandparents engage in a wide range of activities and interactions that contribute positively at the classroom and station levels. These contributions include: 1) increased opportunities for all children in the classroom to receive individualized adult attention; 2) a calming influence on the classroom environment; 3) behind-the-scenes support that facilitate smooth transitions from one activity to the next; and 4) continuity for children when teaching staff are absent or leave.

These contributions to children, classrooms, and stations were greatest among Foster Grandparents who demonstrated a variety of positive caregiver behaviors and served in classrooms where certain practices were implemented. In the effective classrooms, Foster Grandparents demonstrated various positive caregiver behaviors. Foster Grandparents:

  • Engaged in a range of positive person-to-person interactions with assigned and other children over the course of the day (e.g., listening attentively to the children and acknowledging their progress and accomplishments).
  • Developed or reinforced prosocial behaviors through modeling, encouraging children to try new activities with friends, and acknowledging individual contributions to a group activity or task.
  • Provided children with constructive guidance and feedback (e.g., by helping children make productive choices and redirecting misbehavior).

Other practices identified by this study point to the important mentoring that teachers in effective classrooms provide to Foster Grandparents. The following classroom/teacher practices were present in the four classrooms where Foster Grandparents demonstrated consistent positive caregiver behavior and absent in the remaining two. In the effective classrooms:

  • Classroom teachers modeled and reinforced a variety of caregiver behaviors.
  • Classroom teachers communicated with Foster Grandparents in ways that informed the Foster Grandparent about activities or events planned for the day, guided them to children in need of special attention, acknowledged their contributions to children and the classroom, and periodically reinforced the Foster Grandparent’s positive caregiver behaviors.
  • Classroom teachers and Foster Grandparents approached all tasks, including the more mundane household and custodial ones, in ways that transformed them into enjoyable and productive learning experiences for the children.
  • Classroom teachers encouraged or reinforced Foster Grandparent efforts to serve designated exceptional or special needs children in the context of ongoing classroom activities.
  • Stations offered the Foster Grandparents a place and time to gather and interact with one another about their work with children.

There is sufficient evidence from the literature and the observations from this study to conclude that these are effective practices for Foster Grandparents.

Download the full report. (78.2KB PDF)

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