Language of the Child in Poverty






My own story…

I’ve written a book: **

Increasing language skills of students from low-income backgrounds: Practical strategies for professionals

(2 nd ed. 2013).

Plural Publishing Company.



• (no stats are on exam)

**Standard of living for those in bottom 10% is lower in U.S. than any other developed nation except the

United Kingdom

According to the U.S. Department of

Health and Human Services (2014)**

• Poverty is defined according to income guidelines

• For example, a “poor” family of 4 would earn $23,850 a year

• A “poor” family of 8 would earn $40,090 a year

According to the Pew Research Center


• Today, most poor Americans are in their prime working years(ages 18-24)

• In 1959, only 41.7% of Americans in this age group were poor; in 2012, 57% of poor Americans were ages 18-64

• Today in the U.S., 21.8% of poor

Americans are children under the age of


Pew Research Center 2014: **

• Poverty is heaviest in the South

• In 2012, the South was home to 37.3% of all Americans and 41.1% of the nation’s poor people

In terms of race and ethnicity, the following numbers of children live in low-SES homes:**

• 27% White

• 30% Asian

• 61% African


• 63% Hispanic

Children in the Hispanic community…..

• **32% of migrant workers have less than a

9 th grade education as compared to 3% of the American workforce as a whole (U.S.

Department of Agriculture, 2012)

• Many migrant workers have an average income below the national poverty line

(Castillo, 2012)

• **U.S. shifting from manufacturing, industrial society to serviceoriented, high-tech society, many blue-collar jobs requiring little education but paying well are disappearing/being outsourced

In 2012: **

• 37.6% of jobs required a Bachelor’s degree or higher

• 26.2% of jobs required a high school diploma with no college

• 8.5% of jobs required less than a high school diploma

Blue collar positions…

Neuman **

• Perhaps for the first time in its history,

America now has a caste-like underclass of unskilled and illiterate persons with no counterpart in the Western world

• Neuman, S. (2009).

Changing the odds for children at risk: Seven essential principles of educational programs that break the cycle of poverty

. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Homelessness is a factor for many children**

• Homeless children and youth lack a fixed, regular, and adequate night time residence

• Live: cars, parks, public places, abandoned buildings, or bus or train stations

• Homelessness: inability of people to pay for housing; impacted by both income and affordability of available housing (National

Alliance to End Homelessness, 2012)

My husband Mike and my son Mark and I


• Have been privileged to work directly with members of the homeless community through a church ministry

The direct contact with members of the homeless community puts a face on statistics:**

• The number of low-SES households that spent more than 50% of their income on rent increased by 6% from 5.9 million in 2009 to 6.2 million in


• The average real income of working poor people increased by less than 1% from 2009 to 2010.

There was not a single county in the nation where a family with an average annual income of $9,400 could afford fair market rent for a 1-bedroom unit

(National Alliance to End Homelessness, 2012)



• Homelessness → irregular attendance

• Lack of food→learning problems, and stunted physical growth

• Neighborhood problems, such as increased exposure to crime and violence, post-traumatic stress syndrome, inferior schools, and fewer safe places for children to learn, play, and explore

Hepp, 2011 ASHA Leader

“Protecting Children From


When it is dangerous outside…**

• Children stay indoors, watch TV

• Some low-SES children watch up to 11 hours of TV a day

If you were a single, low-SES mom in a dangerous neighborhood, how would you fill your preschool child’s 14-hour day? (day care…..? Assume you have 4 children)**

• **Family stress, including parental depression, fighting, potential neglect and abuse of children

• Fewer learning resources such as books, quality child care, good libraries

• Home and work responsibilities take priority over school

• Fewer extracurricular activities, travel opportunities

• **Asthma

• Exposure to lead

• Prematurity

• Lack of access to health care, including dental care



They have an external locus of control:

Situational Poverty


There is an internal locus of control:**

• They can influence the future by making good choices now

• People believe they can shape their own fate

• Open toward intervention



• Research has found that SES is more critical to a child’s language development than ethnic background

• The factor most highly related to SES is the mother’s educational level


• Early communication experiences differ based on family income to such a degree that SES can predict a child’s academic performance during the school-age years

Low-SES caregivers who have little education…**

• Tend to provide less oral language stimulation for their children

• Hart and Risley (1995, 2003) studied children from professional, workingclass, and welfare homes

• They found that in a 365-day year, children from professional families heard about 4 million utterances; children from welfare families heard about 250,000 utterances

Hart and Risley extrapolated that…**

• In order for the welfare children to gain a vocabulary equivalent to that of children from working class homes, these welfare children would need to attend a preschool program for forty hours per week where they heard language at a level used in professional homes

Other research has found that…


SES caregivers…**

• Are also more likely to slap or spank their children rather than using verbal discipline

• These children then grow up to solve problems by means of physical aggression rather than discussion

Low-SES children tend to

• Low vocabulary skills have:**

• Poorer grammar

• Pragmatics problems (e.g., being “rude,” interrupting, not using conventional manners or saying things such as

“please” and “thank you”)



• Families may be too poor to buy books

• Parents’ low educational level leads to less reading

• Also, reading style is affected. Research shows that low-SES parents use lower level language, tell children to pay attention without interrupting, and ask very basic, straightforward questions that don’t require much thought

According to Moran


• A child growing up in a middle-class neighborhood will own an average of 13+ books

• Low-income communities average about one book for every 300 children

Having reading difficulties:


• Reading and writing skills are often low

—very basic and concrete

• There is difficulty with

decontextualized language

Many low-

SES children…**

• Have substantial difficulty with phonological awareness skills



• Low-SES children get overreferred to special education

• Many standardized tests of language skills are biased against low-SES students

• There can be grammatical bias

• Test tasks are often highly decontextualized (“Tell me everything you can about a



In addition…

In order to validly evaluate the language skills of low-SES children, we can use:



• Reach out to families, by giving them lists of resources like youtube videos

• We can also send books home

• We can send home short DVDs that demonstrate language stimulation techniques

We need to focus on developing:

Lovelace & Stewart (2009, p. 168) stated that:**

• Children from low-SES backgrounds are often limited in experiences needed to build background knowledge for vocabulary growth because individual choices and experiences provided to these children overall are more limited than for groups with greater economic resources…

• **Because experiences are limited, the potential for gaining word knowledge from a variety of opportunities is predictably reduced for these children.

These early differences in children’s vocabulary knowledge have shown that even a small disadvantage grows into a larger one and becomes difficult to ameliorate without intervention.


We also need to teach basic safety**

Caesar and Nelson (2013)**

• Described a highly effective program called


—Supporting Acquisition of

Language and Literacy Through School-

Home Activities

• This study assessed the efficacy of a simple literacy-building program with migrant

Hispanic families who had limited English, low literacy levels, high mobility, and challenges with poverty

• **The SALSA project explored how a parent-child journaling activity could be used to build a home-school partnership

• Experimental group—given children’s books and also did a home journaling activity on the weekends

• Control group—just books, no journaling

The experimental group:**

• Was given (at the end of each week) red

SALSA bags, with spiral notebooks, colored pencils, and other inexpensive drawing supplies

• Parents were asked to talk with their children about their activities and produce simple drawings about everyday events and activities, adding written notes (when possible) in Spanish and/or English

• **The weekend gave the parents and children time to complete the assignment; children brought the bags back to Head

Start on Monday

• In the control classroom, preschoolers brought home green SALSA bags with books and were encouraged to talk about the books with their parents (no journaling)



SKILLS (teachers & SLPs)**

• Low-SES students are vulnerable in this area due to environmental and physiological factors

They have a lot of chaos in their lives…**

Executive Functioning Involves:**

• The problem-solving processes that are utilized at the outset of a novel, nonautomatic task

• Goal-directed behavior that we engage in to be successful in life

• Thinking about and planning for the future, and considering our choices and their consequences

We can help children develop these skills by:

Teach kids to ask:**

• What is the problem I am having right now?

• Why am I having this problem?

• What can I do about it?

Help students to think as follows:**

• The choice I made was____

• The consequence of this choice was____.

• Next time, I could choose to


• I could also choose to____.

To help students move out of poverty…**

• We can be caring, involved role models