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A Critique of "Home Background and Young Children"

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Research on the nature of home literacy experiences point out that such experiences are more embedded in family social events than reading and writing itself. Studies on the social and cultural differences among families indicate that the interaction patterns among parents and children, the amount of literacy events that occur inside the family as well as the values and attitudes towards literacy are mainly responsible for children's later academic achievement.

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Changes do not occur in isolation but rather a disruption in one domain (e.g., parent employment) often triggers a disruption in another domain (e.g., child care) in a “domino effect” fashion. In some cases, the causality of instability is not one-dimensional but a result of a complicated series of events that compound over time. This domino effect may be most evident among low-income or lower middle-class families who lack savings and assets that they can tap into during temporary periods of transition. Children thrive in stable and nurturing environments where they have a routine and know what to expect. Although some change in children’s lives is normal and anticipated, sudden and dramatic disruptions can be extremely stressful and affect children’s feeling of security

Within the context of supportive relationships with adults who act as a buffer against any negative effects of instability, children learn how to cope with adversity, adapt to their surroundings, and regulate their emotions. Welldesigned, two-generational intervention programs aimed at supporting positive parenting, reducing parental and childhood stress, and strengthening family coping strategies can ease the impact of instability on children. Although parents are primary in assuring their children’s well-being and healthy development, a broad range of government programs also play an important role, especially for children in low-income families. Safety net programs provide financial assistance to families in the form of cash payments or subsidized housing, child care, or food, all of which help to alleviate the immediate effects of instability. But the programs might be able to do more to stabilize the situation for children, by considering whether any administrative practices inadvertently increase instability. Simplified reporting procedures, longer eligibility periods, and a single, centralized eligibility process for multiple programs are some potential strategies.

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In general, research suggests that children experience better outcomes when they live with two married biological parents rather than in other household arrangements, such as stepparent and single-parent homes or families headed by cohabiting parents. Scholars generally agree that these patterns are a consequence of a system of obligations and rewards that define marriage in the United States but also reflect the socioeconomic and emotional resources that select some adults into stable marriages (Fomby et al. 2011). Together, selection and protection processes shape parenting, parent-child relationships, availability of social support, organization of the home, and family time use in ways that are advantageous to children. The instability and change hypothesis has provided much of the theoretical guidance for this research. It posits that changes in a parent’s marital or romantic status constitute a major stressor for parent and child. Exits or entrances of romantic partners are associated with changes in parenting behaviors, household routines, and economic well-being that, in turn, disrupt parents’ ability to effectively manage their children’s lives and be emotionally sensitive to them

These transitions can also result in residential moves and disrupt the degree to which children are able to draw support from others and engage with their environments (Amato 2000; Crosnoe and Cavanagh 2010; Wu and Martinson 1993). Although many children never experience a family structure change, those who experience one family transition are at greater risk for subsequent transitions and their concomitant stresses. Regardless of whether the significance of family structure change for early childhood development reflects selection into and through various family structures, the actual experience of living in and changing between such family structures, or both processes at once, illuminates how even one family structure transition plays out in a child’s life is an important task. This task is especially important to consider for the crisis periods of household routine disruption that can follow the end or start of parents’ coresidential relationships. Turning attention to child care, another major setting of early childhood, can be a valuable part of this task.

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In summary, despite the limitations, this research contributes to our understanding of health inequalities in children and the potential role of chronic stress underlying these inequalities. More specifically, our research suggests that housing conditions, and the related home environment, have potentially important implications for child well-being, net of other social and economic characteristics of the family. The finding that younger children had higher risks of elevated inflammation in homes with poor physical conditions suggests that biological embedding of disadvantage may begin early in the life course.

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Fomby P, Cavanagh S, Goode J. Family instability and school readiness in the United States and the United Kingdom. Washington, DC: National Center for Family and Marriage Research; 2011.

Williams K, Dunne-Bryant A. Divorce and adult psychological well-being: Clarifying the role of gender and child age. Journal of Marriage and Family. 2006;

Amato P. The consequences of divorce for adults and children. Journal of Marriage and Family. 2000;62:1269–1287.

Crosnoe R, Cavanagh SE. Families with children and adolescents: A review, critique, and future agenda. Journal of Marriage and Family. 2010

Wu LL, Martinson BC. Family structure and the risk of a premarital birth. American Sociological Review. 1993

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