The 30 Million Words Gap

What’s the 30 million words gap? A 1995 landmark study found that a child born into poverty hears 30 million fewer words by age 3 than a child born to well-off parents, creating a gap in literacy preparation that creates far reaching socioeconomic and educational disadvantages. We see those disadvantages in statistics such as those that show lack of school-readiness in low-income children and failure to perform at grade level for minority public school students.In order to find ways to bridge this language gap, researchers at the University of Chicago have completed the first research trial of the Thirty Million Words Project, in which home visits were made to low-income mothers to train them in a parent-talk curriculum. The study is not complete, but early research indicates dramatic increases in parent-child interaction, which in turn, should result in stimulating child language development. Program founder Dr. Dana Suskin says, “Babies aren’t born smart, they’re made smart by parents talking to them.”

The Thirty Million Words Project falls in line with a relatively new idea in low-income child intervention programs: the idea that school-based intervention may be too late. The most effective interventions for children in poverty may occur much earlier, perhaps even before birth. Cognitive development gap trends have been identified in poor babies as young as nine months old, and that gap only increases with age. Home visiting interventions build relationships with the entire family and may be the key to preventing poverty’s devastating effects on a child’s development.

Indiana has several local home visiting programs for low-income families including the Nurse Family Partnership, Parents as Teachers and Healthy Families Indiana. The Nurse Family Partnership, part of Goodwill Industries, is an evidence-based community health program that partners vulnerable mothers with a registered nurse early in a pregnancy and provides ongoing nurse home visits that continue through the child’s second birthday. Parents as Teachers is a national program provided by several nonprofits across Indiana, that provides personalized home visits by a certified Parent Educator, play groups, parent meetings, early developmental screenings, and a referral network for parents. Healthy Families Indiana is a voluntary home visitation program that provides a variety of services to at risk families of children under 5, including child development evaluation, access to health care and parent education.

Transform Consulting Group can help your organization use the latest research like that from the Thirty Million Words Project to help identify trends and make recommendations to maximize the impact of your work. Yogi Berra stated “If you don’t know where you are going, how are you gonna know when you get there?” Contact us today and we’ll help you get there.

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