Skip to Content

Research: The (Sad) State of Latino Early Childhood Development

Latino kids are at risk of not getting the proper care and environment they need for healthy formative development. Traumatic early experiences, unhealthy lifestyles, and low participation in preschool programs impair Latino kids’ social and emotional development, academic achievement, and overall health, according to a new Salud America! research review. Explore the research to see emerging policies and practices to reduce trauma and promote healthy early development among Latino kids.


nullNearly 4 in 5 Latino kids suffer at least one traumatic childhood experience, like poverty or abuse, and lack the proper care and environment they need for healthy early development, according to a new research review from Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio.

Salud America!’s The State of Latino Early Childhood Development examines barriers to Latino early childhood development.

Here are a few startling findings:

  • Latino youth (77.8%) are more likely than all youth (70%) to have “adverse childhood experiences”—poverty, neglect, abuse, household dysfunction, etc.
  • About 28% of Latino youth suffer four or more of these traumas.
  • Latino kids exposed to many traumas tend to have higher obesity rates, future health issues, aggression, and substance use; and lower language, literacy, and math skills.
  • 42% of kids live in “child care deserts” with no or overfull early care and education centers.
  • Only 40% of Latino kids participate in preschool programs vs. 53% of white kids.

The research review also uncovers what’s working to boost early development:

  • Kids who get stimulating early care from birth to age 5 had far less risk of heart and metabolic diseases in their mid-30s.
  • Home visits address and prevent adverse childhood experiences by providing Latino parents with culturally relevant support to promote a healthy, nurturing home for kids.
  • Latino preschoolers who get culturally tailored independent learning have test scores above the national average.

“There is a great need for culturally-sensitive programs and policies to prevent trauma and improve education, health, and social and emotional development for Latinos in early childhood,” said Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez, lead author of the research review, and director of Salud America! and the Institute for Health Promotion Research at UT Health San Antonio.

The research review also makes key policy and practice recommendations:

  • Increase efforts to boost early childhood education.
  • Promote access to and availability of early childhood education programs for Latino kids.
  • Train the childcare workforce to provide trauma-informed care for kids.
  • Create “medical homes” to boost wellbeing in Latino and all kids.
  • Assess childhood history and include developmental/behavioral screening in routine primary care or home visits to identify and address adverse experiences early.
  • Support initiatives that boost access to healthy food and spaces for physical activity.

How can these practices and policies play out in real life?

San Antonio is a good example.

For example, city health worker Kori Eberle helped launch mega community baby showers to bring expectant and new mothers to resources to ensure a healthy delivery and early childhood development in this majority Latino town.

Norma Sifuentes and Diana Montano, two other city health workers, helped launch a Baby Café to connect Latina and all mothers to breastfeeding support and peer counseling.

Dr. Kathy Fletcher knows the first three years of a child’s life are critical for preparing kids to grow and mature into healthy and productive students and adults.

But what if early childcare providers don’t know how to make it happen?

Fletcher, President and CEO of Voices for Children of San Antonio, worried that these providers—who only need a high-school education to be on the job—are eager to help children success, but don’t always have the tools to give local kids the appropriate developmental care and services they need during their formative years to promote healthy development.

So Fletcher teamed up with local partners for a big idea to provide free professional development for early childcare providers. This training gives Latino and other disadvantaged kids in San Antonio a better shot at a healthy childhood and life.

“The first few years are just so important for preventing obesity and chronic illness and preparing kids for kindergarten and life,” Fletcher said.

Watch SaludAmerica’s “State of Latino Early Childhood Development” video!

Learn more and get involved with improving Early Care and Education environments for all children. Join the Voices for Healthy Kids Action Center Early Care and Education Action Team!