Reach Out and Read is Feasible and Effective for Adolescent Mothers: A Pilot Study


Objectives The Reach Out and Read program (ROaR) is associated with increased parent–child book reading and improved language development in children. Though children of adolescent parents may have an elevated risk of language delay, ROaR has never been specifically studied among adolescent-headed families. This pilot evaluated the feasibility and effectiveness of ROaR among adolescent mothers and their children. Methods This randomized controlled pilot followed thirty adolescent mothers with children aged 6–20 months in a teen-tot clinic in downtown Toronto. At each of three consecutive well child checkups, intervention families received a new children’s book, reading-related anticipatory guidance customized to the mother’s developmental stage, counselling from a librarian, and a public library card. Control families received routine care. At baseline and study completion, all mothers completed a survey on family reading patterns and the Beck Depression Inventory-Revised (BDI-IA). Results Though regression models were not statistically significant, bivariate analyses at study completion revealed that intervention mothers were significantly more likely than controls to report reading as one of the child’s favorite activities (29 vs 0 %) and had significantly lower maternal depression scores (7.0 vs 12.5; ≥10 = clinically significant depression). Trends for all other variables, including time spent reading together and maternal enjoyment of reading, were also in the direction of benefit. This program was implemented at minimal cost and adopted permanently following study completion. Conclusions This feasible and developmentally appropriate intervention shows promise in promoting shared book reading and reducing maternal depression within adolescent-headed families, warranting investigation with larger trials.

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The authors wish to acknowledge the following contributors: Toronto Public Libraries (The Hospital for Sick Children branch) and the University of Toronto Library Sciences Program for their library services and literacy promotion support, particularly Jennifer Borkowski, Sarah McBain, and Dianna Sherlock; the Young Families Program for their assistance in implementing the program; Chapters Indigo for their generous donation of children’s books for participating families; library sciences student Vanessa Kitchen for her assistance with literature review and literacy promotion support; and research volunteers Jesse Beatson, Dan-Bi Cho, Nadina Mahadeo, and Alissa von Malachoski for their assistance with recruitment and data collection. This study was funded by a Trainee Start-Up Fund from The Hospital for Sick Children Research Institute, Toronto, Canada.

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Correspondence to Maya M. Kumar.

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Conflict of interest

The authors have no real or potential conflicts of interest to disclose. All sources of funding are acknowledged in the preceding Acknowledgements section.

Research Involving Human Participants

The investigators subscribe to the basic ethical principles underlying the conduct of research involving human subjects as set forth in the Belmont Report. All research protocols, research questionnaires, and consent documents were approved by The Hospital for Sick Children Research Ethics Board.

Informed Consent

The nature of the study was fully explained to all potential subjects, including that it involved research, that they would be randomized to one of two study arms, the purposes of the research, the expected duration of the subject’s participation and how much time it would require, a description of the study questionnaires, a description of any foreseeable risks and benefits that could reasonably be expected, a discussion of how confidentiality of records would be maintained, that participation was voluntary with no subsequent impact on the family’s clinical care if they chose not to participate, that any question on a questionnaire could be skipped, and that participants could withdraw at any time from the study. A written consent document containing all pertinent information was provided to potential participants and verbally reviewed by research staff with an opportunity for the participant to ask questions before consenting.

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Kumar, M.M., Cowan, H.R., Erdman, L. et al. Reach Out and Read is Feasible and Effective for Adolescent Mothers: A Pilot Study. Matern Child Health J 20, 630–638 (2016).

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  • Literacy programs
  • Primary prevention
  • Child development
  • Pregnancy in adolescence
  • Reach Out and Read