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The Impact of Default Options for Parent Participation in an Early Language Intervention


In this study we tested, via a randomized control study design, different enrollment options for a scaled city-wide text-based early learning program among 405 mothers who were receiving newborn home visiting services. We found that when automatically enrolled with a voluntary option to opt out, 88.7% of mothers in the experimental group stayed in the program and continued to receive the text-based content over the course of 26 weeks. In contrast, only 1% of mothers in the control group who heard about the text-based program through conventional recruitment flyers voluntarily enrolled in the program. Opt-out and opt-in patterns did not differ by characteristics typically considered as interfering with program participation: low income status, first-time motherhood status, total number of children, maternal language, flagging for depressive symptoms, and household residential instability. Findings suggest that automatic enrollment might be an effective engagement strategy for text- and similar digitally-based early childhood programs.


  • We test automatic enrollment for participation in a scaled early learning program.

  • The majority of parents in the opt-out condition remained enrolled.

  • Few parents enrolled in the opt-in condition in response to informational flyers.

  • Opting-out did not vary by key demographic or socio-economic characteristics.

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We gratefully acknowledge financial support from the Bezos Family Foundation and the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development R03 HD090280. We are enormously grateful to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Newborn Home Visiting Program Harlem Team for their support of this research and recruiting participants for the study; and, the families for their willingness to participate.

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Correspondence to Lisa A. Gennetian.

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This study was approved by the New York University’s Institutional Review Board following an Expedited Review at 45 CFR 46 110(b)[1] Category 7. All procedures performed in this study involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all participants included in this study.

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Gennetian, L.A., Coskun, L.Z., Kennedy, J.L. et al. The Impact of Default Options for Parent Participation in an Early Language Intervention. J Child Fam Stud 29, 3565–3574 (2020).

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  • Early childhood programming
  • Language development
  • Socioeconomic disparities
  • Parent engagement
  • Default options