Theses Doctoral

Handle With Care: Formative Evaluation of a Perinatal Health Education Program in an Urban Early Head Start Center

diPaola, Ellyce Michelle

This study evaluated a novel perinatal health education program, entitled Preparing for Caring, teaching infant touch and handling skills for those who care for babies. Sensitive, attuned, and responsive interactions between caregivers and infants are crucial for the healthy development of foundational brain architecture. Research has confirmed that evidence-based perinatal health programs have the potential to increase the caregiver’s satisfaction and self-efficacy, to reduce anxiety about caring for a newborn, to increase the caregiver’s capacity to form an attachment bond with the infant, and to promote the infant’s health and development.

The present study built upon evidence that nurturing touch is positively associated with brain development which positively impacts behavior, cognition, and the health trajectories of children from low-income urban and minority families who are more likely to experience disparities in lifespan health, including increased infant and maternal mortality. Caring and stimulus-rich environments, especially those promoted in intergenerational programs such as Early Head Start, offer “the most compelling evidence” for producing positive changes in both parents and children. The current study, providing perinatal parenting education within an urban Early Head Start (EHS) setting, was hypothesized to effect changes in parents that will positively influence their parenting skills during a critical period of neural and emotional growth and thereby positively influence their children’s development.

Mixed-methods data were collected from EHS early childcare educators, parents and community caregivers, administrators, and the program developers. Analyses evaluated program fidelity, specifically in its translation to a new population and setting; identified barriers to and facilitators of implementation of the program; identified which program components were most likely to be accepted and incorporated into daily use by participants; and conducted and shared the results of a pilot study on what an impact evaluation of what participating in this program might look like for key outcomes (including caregiver self-efficacy and maternal self-esteem). 


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Health and Behavior Studies
Thesis Advisors
Rajan, Sonali
Allegrante, John P.
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
June 2, 2021