THE MOST RAPID PERIOD OF DEVELOPMENT IN HUMAN LIFE OCCURS FROM BIRTH TO AGE FIVE
The first 2,000 days of life leading up to Kindergarten are critical to the success of each child, not only in school, but in life. Children living in poverty are more likely to experience a wide range of health problems, chronic disease, mental health problems, and lower academic achievements, and these negative effects can last a lifetime. Poverty puts an additional strain on families, which can lead to parental mental health and relationship problems, financial problems and substance abuse.
Poverty is linked with negative conditions such as substandard housing, homelessness, inadequate nutrition and food insecurity, inadequate childcare, lack of access to health care, unsafe neighborhoods, and under-resourced schools which adversely impact our county’s children.
The most important developmental period is the early childhood period as the brain is developing rapidly and is easily influenced by conditions of poverty. This formative, developmental phase includes physical, social/emotional, and language/cognitive development, all of which are influential on well-being throughout life. Childhood poverty has long lasting consequences on mental health as the impact of chronic stress can result in anxiety and behavioral disorders as well as impairing memory, making it more challenging to learn.
Thankfully, we have evidence that we can begin to reverse this by investing in early childhood programs. High-quality preschool, for example, shows that children who attend good early education programs are more likely to stay in school and to have strong educational outcomes. Quality preschool experiences have effects on math achievement, enrollment in honors courses, and grade retention that endures through middle school. Home visiting and family support programs confers similar benefits with high-quality programs reducing child abuse and neglect, decreasing pre-term births and low-birth weight, as well as increasing school readiness and high school graduation rates.
EARLY CHILDHOOD IS A SMART INVESTMENT
Nobel Laureate Dr. James Heckman calls early childhood programs “one of the highest returns that we have…to make in American society.”
Children who participate in early childhood programs are more self-sufficient in the future. They grow up to earn more money, pay more taxes and are less dependent on government programs. While there is a wealth of research that points to the long-term overall benefits to participants in early childhood learning programs, the data shows that the majority of those returns are to society – not just to the individual.
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