Francisco Palermo, Ph.D., Associate Professor, University of Missouri

Personal Spotlight
We asked scholars to describe some of the following questions: What drew you to do work on Latinx youth and families, or another topic that is important to you now? Who was an important mentor to you in this work, or was there a particularly influential study in the field or in a related field?

In graduate school, I was a research assistant on a project designed to identify the preschool experiences that fostered school readiness and early school success in children enrolled in Head Start. Most children in this community in the Southwest spoke primarily Spanish and were learning English as a second language. In fact, for many, Head Start was their first exposure to an English learning environment. I saw children engaging in English and Spanish classroom activities as well as socially interacting with teachers and peers in both of these languages. I wondered how these social and linguistic experiences influenced children’s dual language development and academic skills. I reviewed the literature on dual language development, which was relatively scarce at the time. The deeper I went into the literature, the more I learned about this fast-growing U.S. population and the educational disparities between Spanish-speaking and monolingual English-speaking children. I knew then that reducing the educational disparities and supporting Spanish-speaking children’s dual language development, not just English language development, would be a focus of my research. I could also relate to this line of research. I felt connected to this research focus because I was once in a similar situation: a Spanish-speaking child learning English as a second language in U.S. schools.

Research Spotlight
We invited scholars to describe a recent finding, current study, or recent publication and what makes them excited about it.

I am interested in identifying the family processes, characteristics, and cultural values that are sources of strength for Latino families. I am also interested in reducing adversity’s harmful effects on children, primarily those from Latino backgrounds. For example, using data collected from Latino families in the Early Head Start Research Evaluation Project, I examined the impact of Latina mothers’ parenting stress and depression during children’s toddlerhood on their academic skills four years later, before kindergarten entry (Palermo et al., 2019). I found that parenting stress and depression contributed negatively to children’s academic skills, and mothers’ parenting behaviors mediated that contribution. Notably, the strength of the mediated effect varied based on mothers’ education. The more years of formal education that Latina mothers completed, the more protected children’s academic skills were from the adverse effects of parenting stress and depression. In other words, higher education levels mitigated the extent to which parenting stress and depression interfered with Latina mothers’ ability to engage in supportive and affectionate parenting behaviors, ultimately protecting children’s academic skills. I am excited about this finding because it is consistent with the idea that family characteristics and strengths among Latino families protect children’s academic skills from adversity’s harmful effects, thereby facilitating their ability to enter school ready to learn and succeed academically.

Any upcoming talks, presentations, or publications we should know about?

I have an upcoming publication in press that examines the link between Spanish-speaking preschoolers’ self-regulation abilities (i.e., effortful control) and their vocabulary and literacy skills in English. The findings suggest that effortful control supports children’s learning of English vocabulary and literacy skills by fostering close teacher-child relationships and classroom engagement, particularly for those who received limited English exposure at home.

Reflections on Latinx Caucus Experiences
Finally, we asked about experiences with the SRCD Latinx Caucus: Why is the caucus important and/or your views on the role of the Latinx Caucus vis-à-vis SRCD, research on child development, policy/practice.

I enjoy being a member of the Latinx Caucus. I enjoy seeing friends and meeting new ones who share similar interests, learning about others’ work, and building collaborative relationships. The Latinx Caucus is an excellent venue for bringing all of us together to advance research and policies designed to strengthen Latino families and empower them to support their children’s healthy and positive development, even in the context of adversity.


Website: Dr. Palermo’s Faculty Page

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