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Christina Knott
Life Span Institute

Researchers to study program aimed at improving equity in children’s health in Kansas communities

Wed, 07/26/2023

A man and a girl playing with a dollhouse as she looks up at him. Colored lines wrap around with with images of story elements such as cars, toys, a dog and a family holding hands.

LAWRENCE — University of Kansas researchers in early childhood development have been awarded a three-year, $300,000 grant to help improve language and communication skills in underserved communities, including dual language learners, those in racial minority groups and children with disabilities. 

Funded by the Health and Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the project is focused on the intervention Promoting Communication: Tools for Advancing Language in Kids (PC TALK).  

Researchers have previously shown that PC TALK is successful in at-home early intervention programs and with early education teachers in child care settings. The new study will evaluate the influence, as well as the cost-effectiveness, of PC TALK over time with the goal of improving equity in language learning opportunities in underserved communities. The project will be led by Dale Walker, research professor and senior scientist, and Kathy Bigelow, associate research professor, at the Juniper Gardens Children’s Project, a KU Life Span Institute research center in Kansas City, Kansas.  

The researchers will work with the state of Kansas to measure PC TALK in a variety of Kansas community child care settings in urban communities such as Wyandotte County and metropolitan Kansas City as well as in rural communities, including child care centers that partner with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, such as Early Head Start centers.  

Walker said that the project addresses goals specified by HRSA and the Maternal and Child Health Bureau for rigorous evidence on effective interventions aimed at improving health equity among children.  

“The purpose of this project is to document the efficacy of implementing the PC TALK intervention to partner with and build upon the capacity of early child care providers, to increase the language-learning opportunities that infants and young children experience,” Walker said. “Those opportunities are associated with language development and later school readiness.” 

PC TALK is a toolkit for promoting language and communication in infants and young children including those with and at risk for developmental delay and disabilities. It is made up of eight communication strategies that can be used at home and in child care settings to provide opportunities to infants, toddlers and preschoolers to experience and practice language and communication naturally across routines and activities throughout the day. 

“Ensuring that young children have ample opportunities to experience positive language-learning interactions is of primary importance,” Bigelow said. 

Evidence suggests that children who benefit most from quality early intervention and care experiences are those who are at risk for poorer language and literacy outcomes due to systemic economic and learning inequities and other social determinants of health, she added. Early language exposure has been shown to have positive effects in vocabulary skills, school readiness, social integration, literacy and language skills by third grade and helps prevent problem behavior. Noting that nearly half of U.S. children under age 6 are enrolled in child care,  documenting the efficacy of integrating PC TALK into early childhood programs has the potential to be a resource that can benefit large numbers of infants and children.  

Photo illustration: Early language exposure has been shown to improve vocabulary skills, school readiness, social integration, literacy and language skills in children. Credit: Pexels and Christina Knott.



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