Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name


Degree Program

Applied Developmental Psychology



Major Professor

Scaramella, Laura

Second Advisor

Frick, Paul

Third Advisor

Weems, Carl

Fourth Advisor

Laird, Robert

Fifth Advisor

Barnett, Melissa


Created in 1965, Head Start is the longest running national school readiness program in the United States. Head Start was developed to improve children's social and academic readiness for kindergarten and to reduce the academic achievement gap between impoverished and more affluent children. However, questions about the effectiveness of Head Start have trouble the program since its inception. Head Start children often experience considerably more sociocontextual risk, specifically in the form of more economic disadvantage, maternal psychological distress, and dangerous neighborhoods. The goal of the present study was to evaluate the extent to which attending Head Start buffers children from some of the harmful effects of sociocontextual risk on their acquisition of academic and social school readiness skills. Socio-contextual risk factors were largely unrelated to the school readiness skills. Only mothers' reports of anxiety were significantly associated with slower rates of increase in children's PPVT scores, suggesting that mothers who are more anxious have children who are not developing receptive vocabulary scores as quickly as children whose mothers have fewer anxiety symptoms. Head Start did not buffer the impact of socio-contextual risk on children's attainment of school readiness skills. A secondary goal of the present study was to validate mothers' reports of neighborhood danger with interviewer impressions of neighborhood safety and objective crime reports. Interviewer impressions correlated significantly with mothers' reports of neighborhood danger and official crime statistics. Interestingly, official crime statistics were not correlated with mothers' reports of neighborhood danger, but were correlated with interviewer impressions. Interviewers may provide a valuable objective perspective of characteristics of the neighborhood. This sample was not intended to explore the effects of natural disasters on household structures, maternal psychopathology, or children's academic development. However, results clearly highlighted the need to empirically consider the specific challenges associated with lowincome families after a natural disaster. Study implications and promising directions for future research are discussed.


The University of New Orleans and its agents retain the non-exclusive license to archive and make accessible this dissertation or thesis in whole or in part in all forms of media, now or hereafter known. The author retains all other ownership rights to the copyright of the thesis or dissertation.