Promoting Early Child Development in Primary Care for Low-Income Families


This research project examines mechanisms through which early social interactions impact a child’s early learning. It proposes an intervention delivered in pediatric primary care clinics to increase positive parenting of infants and toddlers in low-income families.

The latest study from this research project...

Dr. Reshma Shah and co-author Erika Gustafson"Parental Attitudes and Beliefs Surrounding Play Among Predominantly Low-Income Urban Families: A Qualitative Study" in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, by Reshma Shah and colleagues.

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More about This Research

Poverty-related educational disparities are established in the first three years of a child’s life. This research offers a population-level approach to encourage positive parenting behaviors and promote early child development in low-income families, which are precursors of later educational achievement.

Recognized by the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development as a target for research to improve early child development and school readiness among at-risk families, the primary care setting offers an ideal opportunity to reach the millions of children who live in poverty.

This research project develops and pilot-tests a brief, theory-based intervention delivered in the primary care setting.

Grounded in social cognitive theory and modeled after the widely disseminated literacy program Reach Out and Read, the intervention aims to enrich positive parenting behaviors and promote early child development in low-income families. The investigator will gather data essential to test the intervention’s efficacy on parental and child outcomes (to be proposed in a subsequent R01 application) by pursuing these aims:

  1. Utilize qualitative methods and conduct focus groups and semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders (i.e., parents, clinicians, clinical staff and administrators of the proposed intervention) to inform intervention development and identify barriers to implementation.
  2. Test the developed intervention via a pilot longitudinal randomized controlled trial to determine the feasibility of protocol implementation and to investigate the potential impact on parental outcomes.

This research builds upon Dr. Shah’s strong clinical background in developmental-behavioral pediatrics, serves as a framework to develop accessible and sustainable clinical interventions that seek to enhance early child development, and prepares her for long-term independence as a clinical researcher. The grant also supports Dr. Shah’s training in the design, execution, and analysis of clinical trials in the primary care setting; qualitative methods and longitudinal data analysis for intervention development; childhood development and its social determinants; and professional development through scientific publications and presentations.

Principal investigator
Funding Agency

Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development of the National Institutes of Health (Grant No. K23HD086295)

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About this grant

This Mentored Patient-Oriented Research Career Development Award (K23) supports the training of Dr. Shah as an independent clinical investigator.


Her mentors are Marc Atkins, PhD, and Alan Schwartz, PhD, at UIC, and Michael Msall, MD, at the University of Chicago.

Related publications

Shah R, Gustafson E, Atkins M. Parental Attitudes and Beliefs Surrounding Play Among Predominantly Low-income Urban Families: A Qualitative Study. J Dev Behav Pediatr. [Epub 2019 July 19.] doi: 10.1097/DBP.0000000000000708.

Shah R, Isaia A, Schwartz A, Atkins M. Encouraging Parenting Behaviors That Promote Early Childhood Development Among Caregivers From Low-Income Urban Communities: A Randomized Static Group Comparison Trial of a Primary Care-Based Parenting Program. Matern Child Health J. 2019 Jan;23(1):39-46. doi: 10.1007/s10995-018-2589-8.