The project includes an ethnographic study of 256 additional children and families, recruited nonrandomly, who were not in the survey sample but resided in the same neighborhood. Families were recruited into the ethnography between June 1999 and December 2000. Recruitment sites included formal childcare settings (e.g., Head Start), the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, neighborhood community centers, local welfare offices,churches , and other public assistance agencies. Of the 256 families who participated in the ethnography, 212 families were selected if they included a child age two to four. The other 44 were recruited specifically because they had a child aged zero to eight years with a moderate or severe disability.

To gather ethnographic data on the families the method of "structured discovery" was used, in which in-depth interviews and observations were focused on specific topics but allowed flexibility to capture unexpected findings and relationships (Burton et al. 2001; Winston et. al. 1999). Families were visited an average of once or twice per month for 12 to 18 months and then every six months thereafter through 2003. In addition to these interviews, which were primarily conducted with the biological or adoptive mother or primary caregiver of a a target child age two to four, ethnographers engaged in participant observation with the family. The latter oftern involved accompanying the mother and her children to the welfare office, doctor, grocery store, or workplace, and taking note of the interactions and contexts of those places.

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