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Coaching to change adult behavior: What can home visiting and early care and education learn from each other?

Check out the first blog in this series“Sharing research and innovation across home visiting and early care and education can better serve families”

Coaching is a strategy used in some early childhood programs to help an adult develop skills and improve the quality of their interactions with children. Coaching to support adult behavior change occurs in both home visiting (HV) and early care and education (ECE). Home visitors sometimes coach parents, and ECE technical assistance specialists coach providers. Research in both fields is emerging, and the fields can learn from each other given the similarities in their use of coaching to change adult behaviors with children.

As we wrote in the first blog in this series, research and practice in the HV and ECE fields are often separate (e.g., many researchers work in one rather than both areas), and HV and ECE are often housed in separate state agencies. Although the execution of coaching may look different in HV and ECE, many similarities also exist. For example, staff in both fields work to establish good client relationships, set goals, and sometimes model new behaviors or practices. By conducting and reviewing siloed research on coaching, we miss opportunities to more effectively support important adult behavior change. The following areas are ripe for cross-field collaboration.

Building the evidence base across both fields to identify and test key components of coaching may improve efficiency and effectiveness. Although ECE research has explored promising features of coaching, it has more often examined the overall effectiveness of coaching, rather than the importance of one or more components. HV research also focuses on the effectiveness of overall models (e.g., Parents as Teachers, Nurse Family Partnership) or some model enhancements (e.g., Moving Beyond Depression). Both fields must identify key components of coaching that drive changes in adults’ interactions with children. What essential components of coaching models make them effective? Where can there be flexibility? Examining research from both fields may help identify coaching components that are key to changing adult behavior.

We can improve coaching effectiveness by drawing on research from both fields about how the characteristics of the individual contribute to the success of coaching. While both ECE and HV literature note the importance of provider or parent characteristics (e.g., mental health, engagement) to the success of coaching, HV research also has explored characteristics of home visitors (e.g., alignment with families on goals) that might be improved through training. Both fields would benefit from a better understanding of how the characteristics of individuals in the coaching relationship affect the likelihood of changing adult behaviors to benefit young children.

Both the quality and components of coaching are critical factors in achieving positive parent and child outcomes. HV has developed ways to measure quality coaching (i.e., home visitor and parent interaction) that could be useful for ECE. Some HV research uses the Home Visit Rating Scales (HOVRS) to capture aspects of home visit quality, including responsiveness to parents, collaboration with the family, and facilitation of parent-child interaction. This research has found relationships between home visit quality and positive parent and child outcomes. ECE coaching research should explore whether this measure or others like it designed to capture quality could strengthen coaching.

Coaches must build motivation, in addition to knowledge; some techniques used in home visiting may help ECE. Sharing knowledge is necessary—but often not sufficient—to changing behavior; motivation matters just as much. Home visitors sometimes struggle to engage families in home visits and sometimes report lacking the skills needed to keep families engaged. Many HV programs now use Motivational Interviewing to engage families, connect them with supports, and change behavior. ECE coaching would likely benefit from similar evidence-based techniques to improve provider engagement and readiness to change. The coaching provided for Virginia Preschool Initiative-Plus is one example of an ECE coaching effort that includes Motivational Interviewing.

Remote technologies may help coaching reach more individuals and be more cost-effective, but research is needed to ensure that remote coaching still achieves desired outcomes. Research on this topic in ECE might inform HV’s use of technology. Can remote coaching be effective? How can technology best be utilized to support successful coaching? Some ECE coaching models have been conducted remotely, and some studies have examined the effectiveness of web-based coaching and related resources in ECE. HV happens primarily in-person, although there is growing interest in “telehealth” to reach families, particularly in remote areas. The HV field can benefit from lessons learned in ECE when determining how technology can best support changes in parents’ behaviors.

Researchers and practitioners in both ECE and HV are building their knowledge about how coaching can support young children and families. Studying one field without looking to the literature in the other creates unnecessary gaps and inefficiencies. Researchers, practitioners, and families will benefit if cross-field evidence and lessons learned can be applied to improve overall coaching practices.

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