New initiative to strengthen early parent engagement

The Johns Hopkins School of Nursing is working with Baltimore City Public Schools and local community foundations to strengthen parenting and parent engagement in pre-kindergarten and is examining the impact of that investment on students' later academic outcomes.

As part of a three-year funding initiative from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation to support early childhood in Baltimore City, a group led by Deborah Gross, a professor in the School of Nursing's Department of Acute and Chronic Care, will implement a parenting program that seeks to improve children's behavioral outcomes and academic success and reduce the reliance on remedial and special education services, which are costly to school systems, later on. The initiative has received additional support from the Leonard and Helen R. Stulman and T. Rowe Price foundations.

The initiative, known as the ChiPP Project, uses tenets of the Chicago Parent Program, which Gross developed while at Rush University in Chicago through a grant from the National Institute for Nursing Research. It is a 12-session, group-based parenting skills training program that offers evidence-based strategies for encouraging good behavior and reducing misbehavior in children ages 2 to 5. The program is listed on the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices and is being implemented in agencies serving families in many states.

In partnership with the Fund for Educational Excellence and the Baltimore City Public Schools Office of Engagement, Gross' group will be introducing the program in six to 10 more schools annually over the next three years. This will be the first time the program has been implemented in Maryland as part of a long-term effort to evaluate its impact on school outcomes.

"Research shows that the strongest predictor of special education use is a child's social, emotional, and behavioral health," Gross says. "And the strongest predictor of children's social, emotional, and behavioral health isn't family income or where you live. It is the quality of parenting that a child experiences."

Six schools—Wolfe Street Academy, Commodore John Rodgers, Liberty Elementary, Arundel Elementary, Furman Templeton Preparatory Academy, and Hamilton Elementary—have already signed on for the first year of the project, which will expand over the next three years to serve more than 350 families in up to 24 schools.

"This effort is very important given the strong commitment of the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing and community foundations to the City of Baltimore and the health of its children and families," Gross says. "It provides an opportunity to make a business case for schools to invest in evidence-based parenting programs during early childhood. The earlier we start, the greater the academic and financial impact."

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