Expanding Latino Parents’ Access to Child Development Research through the News Media

Research BriefFamiliesAug 20 2018

Despite the high level of wealth in the United States, children in this country are more likely to experience poverty than children in many other developed countries, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and most of Europe. Social scientists have identified an array of evidence based strategies that parents, teachers, and others can use to mitigate the challenges associated with poverty. But that research can only be useful if it is accessible to the people who can use it—and to those who need it most. To date, many efforts to communicate these strategies have not focused on audiences experiencing poverty.

The Child Trends News Service project seeks to broaden access to research on child development among low-income U.S. parents, with a focus on reaching Latino parents. As the second-fastest growing and largest ethnic group of children, Latinos represent one-quarter of all children in the United States, a proportion expected to increase to one-third by 2050. While the prevalence of poverty for Latino children has improved since 2013, Latino children were still twice as likely as white children to live in poverty in 2016. And despite some recent economic gains for a subset of Latino families, almost 10.3 million Latino children are growing up poor. A focus on low-income Latino children is even more critical today, when families face greater instability and trauma—from possible family separation related to changes and uncertainties in immigration policy, to the increased stress of a more hostile national environment.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the Child Trends News Service promotes the adoption of research-based parenting practices by building awareness of and appreciation for actionable child development research. The project ensures that this research is made available in English and Spanish through local TV news, the public’s primary news source. Comprised of an interdisciplinary team, the project is a partnership between the Child Trends Hispanic Institute and Ivanhoe Broadcast News, a national news syndication company. This collaborative team serves as a bridge between two very different professional cultures—scientific research and the news media—to ensure that news reports on child development research are scientifically accurate, while conforming to news media production standards.

The value of collaboration between researchers and news professionals lies in striking the right balance between scientific content and storytelling so that news directors and editors value the reports and use them in news programs to reach parents in their audiences. Every month, the News Service team produces eight news reports that feature child development news. One year after the launch of the project, more than 105 TV stations subscribe to the News Service, including stations in the top 25 Latino-serving markets in the country. On average, each report generates more than 2.5 million views, according to Nielsen TV research data.

This research brief highlights findings from the proof of concept pilot year of the Child Trends News Service project. It explores what we have learned regarding best practices for communicating with and engaging Latino parents through short messages on research-informed parenting practices. The findings are grounded in research that substantiates the need to amplify access to child development research, particularly among low income Latino families; and in communication science research that demonstrates the value of the news media as an information source for child development research.

Based on our findings, the prospects for producing short news stories on research-based parenting practices that engage Latino audiences are promising, suggesting that communicators who adhere to practices described in this brief can successfully engage parents. This brief provides communicators with six practical recommendations for engaging parents regarding social science child development research. The research findings are based on focus groups with Latino parents in three geographic areas. These focus groups explored how parents interact with child development research information to inform various stages of their learning that lead to behavioral decisions: triggering parents to acquire knowledge, then building perceived value for high-quality social science research, and finally fostering their intent to adopt the research-informed parenting behaviors featured in the news reports.