The CASJE Early Childhood Project, funded by Crown Family Philanthropies and led by a research team at Child Trends together with researchers from Brandeis University, examines the possibility that Jewish early care and education is a lever for increased Jewish engagement among Jewish families. The study seeks to define and measure Jewish engagement as relates to early childhood educational settings, identify promising Jewish engagement practices for families with young Jewish children, and examine childcare choices and levels of Jewish engagement among families with young Jewish children both before and after ECE enrollment.
The project was designed to answer three primary research questions:
Research Question 1: What does “Jewish engagement” mean to Jewish families with young children and to Jewish early childhood professionals?
Research Question 2: How do Jewish ECE programs engage parents with young children, and what are the barriers to parental or family engagement?
Research Question 3: How do beliefs, attitudes and behaviors around Jewish engagement change over time for Jewish families with young children?
7 Key Contributions from the CASJE Early Childhood Project
The development of a multidimensional definition of Jewish engagement for families raising young children. This new definition includes facets of Jewish engagement that have been overlooked. It provides practitioners, researchers and policy makers with new concepts and metrics to support the engagement of families with young children.
The development of a comprehensive set of new measures of Jewish engagement for families with young children. These measures correspond to the new definition and provide practitioners, researchers and policy makers with useful metrics for Jewish engagement that are more attuned to the needs and perspectives of contemporary families.
The distinction between membership, institutional involvement/attachment and Jewish engagement. Concepts of membership and engagement have often been conflated in Jewish educational settings. Elucidating distinctions between these concepts enables practitioners, researchers, and policy makers to better articulate goals for engagement of Jewish families.
The insight that many Jewish early childhood programs are charged with increasing membership and institutional attachment, but not necessarily Jewish engagement. Early childhood programs are often evaluated on their capacity to increase family participation in the larger organization (e.g., encouraging families to become synagogue members or to attend early childhood activities). Jewish early childhood programs are rarely evaluated on their success in cultivating other facets of engagement among families such as developing Jewish friendships or Jewish home practice, even as these practices are more likely to endure beyond the family’s time connected to the early childhood center.
The use of advanced analytical techniques to estimate the effects of Jewish early childhood programs. Using data collected from parents with young children enrolled in both Jewish and other early childhood programs, the study developed a four-part typology of engagement, which sheds new light on how different types of families with children enrolled in Jewish early childhood programs may change over time.
Identifying types of Jewish families more likely to change over time as an effect of Jewish early childhood programs. The study found that some families were more likely, relative to others, to see change in their Jewish engagement levels that may be attributed to their participation in early childhood programs. This finding may enable the development of specially-tailored interventions to enhance engagement among different kinds of families.
- How practice and policy can be adapted in a wide-range of Jewish early childhood settings. The study’s recommendations include: mobilizing resources for increased Jewish early childhood salaries; encouraging more Jewish early childhood centers to adhere to established standards (e.g. QRIS) to ensure high quality programs and demonstrate quality to parents making choices about their children’s early childhood education; providing more programs for children with special needs; investing in professional development for early childhood educators with a focus on Jewish content, childhood development, and working with parents and families; creating full-day programs that also offer care on Jewish holidays.