During the COVID-19 pandemic, these programs and other digital strategies for reaching parents can be especially beneficial, the researchers say.

“A lot of time is spent in developing excellent and developmentally appropriate content for these programs and relatively little time is spent understanding how to make it easy for parents to engage,” said Lisa A. Gennetian, lead author of the study and Pritzker Associate Professor of Early Learning Policy Studies at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy. “Preserving parents’ choice to enroll in programs, especially those that are universally accessible and free, matters and we learned from this study that automatic enrollment minimizes burden on parents and can have enormous benefits in ways that do not interfere with their freedom.”

The study is the among the first to show that automatic enrollment is a promising strategy for increasing participation in early language and learning programs.

The study also showed the decision to stay in the program or opt out remained consistent for various subgroups. For instance, it made no difference whether this was a first birth or whether the other received public benefits. Such characteristics are sometimes cited as interfering with program participation.

“Opt-out strategies are liberally used in many aspects of our life, from organ donations to decisions about retirement benefits, and they are effective when done carefully,” Gennetian said. “Why wouldn’t we make life easier for parents and apply the same strategy of automatic enrollment with the ease of opting out?”

This research was supported by the Bezos Family Foundation and the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (R03HD090280).


CITATION: “The Impact of Default Options for Parent Participation in an Early Language Intervention,” L.A. Gennetian, L.Z Coskun, J.L. Kennedy, et al. Journal of Child and Family  Studies (2020).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-020-01838-7