Parental Depression Identified As A Risk Factor For Poor School Readiness

Although many children exhibit no identifiable developmental delays at the age of 2, which is known to be a risk factor for poor school readiness at the typical entry into kindergarten (age 5), scientists have found through extensive research that a full quarter of 2-year-olds who have no developmental delays still demonstrate “poor school readiness” when they actually enter school. This is significant because it indicates that more than fine-motor, gross-motor, cognitive, and speech ability is at play when determining a child’s readiness and potential success as they begin kindergarten. Compulsory schooling is often the law at even the age of 7, with some states mandating that all 4-year-olds attend school.

Chinese school-children are instructed in Mianyang, Sichuan. (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

According to Pediatrics, a scholarly journal dedicated to research findings regarding all facets of childhood health issues for individuals from newborn to 18, a study the analyzed extrapolated data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort (ECLS-B), were used for this study and found that some surprising issues may come into play when determining childhood readiness for school. The study discovered that being on target developmentally from birth to 5 was not always a sound way to predict kindergarten success, noting that many other unforeseen issues were coming into play. That includes such societal issues like tobacco use in the home, domestic problems including poverty and violence, and mental health issues of parents, such as depression and crippling anxiety.

While these have likely been considered by psychologists and others for years to be “red flags,” they have not been indicated in formal ways until now. That means a quarter of at-risk children may not have been recognized as being at-risk and therefore did not receive any services that may help them be more prepared for school. Why does any of this matter? Studies have also shown that initial school preparedness can predict lifelong success and attitude towards school, essentially meaning it may determine a child’s future to identify potential problems and begin services that could help the child and family unit.

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AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - MAY 05: Secondary school teacher Sarah Ward at home on maternity leave with her three month old daughter Esme Kelliher, Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

When factors such as developmental delay, known cognitive delay, or very low birth weight were removed, 24 percent of all participants were still labeled as “exhibiting poor school readiness” upon entry to kindergarten. This may mean that what has been considered of utmost importance at well-child checkups in the preschool years is actually the tip of the iceberg. While pediatricians generally screen for motor skills, basic cognitive skills, social interaction, language, and speech usage, scientists found there are nine other areas that may have a significant impact on a child’s readiness for entry into formal education.

All nine variables identified were social, economic, or parental, which may not show up on typical developmental checklists. These nine factors include food insecurity (the child’s family not knowing where the next meal or resources for the next meal were coming from), parental education below a bachelor’s degree, little or no shared reading at home, fair or poor parental health, domestic violence in the home, tobacco use in the home, substance abuse in the home (including alcohol), parental depression, and family history of learning disabilities.

These are important factors because they may not be easily noted or stand out to a pediatrician, and great lengths may be taken to hide some of the risk factors, such as domestic violence and substance abuse, for fear of children being taken away from parents. These covert factors may be difficult to navigate because much depends on the parent or caregiver’s word. All in all, the results of this study seem to indicate that a full quarter of at-risk pre-schoolers are not being identified as being at risk for serious academic and social problems once entering school. The sooner these risk factors can be discovered and addressed, the better the long-term outcome for the child.

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