Now Viewing: Early childhood

Bedtime Story

Jul 1, 2014, 10:33 AM, Posted by Jeff Meade

Sarah Meade Reading Pic Sarah, having a read at Granny's house

The globby tears, the quavering voice, the pudgy outstretched hands, the plaintive word “please.” They all come to mind as vividly as if it were yesterday.

Our daughter Sarah was (and still is, at 27) a good soul, but like every small child, she had her moments. And when those “moments” more or less coincided with bedtime, the worst punishment we could mete out was to refuse to read her bedtime stories—or “sturries,” as she called them. We would kiss her good night, and adjourn to the living room, there to sit and look at each other guiltily as our little girl suffered the tortures of the damned.

We listened to that heartbreaking little plea, “But I HAVE to have sturries!” echoing down the hall, and our hearts would break, too. We felt like the worst parents ever

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A Healthier Denver

Apr 29, 2014, 8:55 AM, Posted by Shale Wong

Bldg a Healthier Denver Members of the Collective - GlaxoSmithKline

I live in Denver. I work in Denver. And as a pediatrician, I’ve dedicated my life to the health of Denver’s kids. It is remarkable to me how connected our health is to our community. In Denver, we have some of the finest health care in the state, yet more and more of our kids are struggling to maintain a healthy weight. It takes much more than having great hospitals in our community for our kids to live a healthy life.

If we want all our kids to grow up healthy in Denver and throughout the United States, we must recognize all of the elements that affect their well-being. That means ensuring our communities are safe, with strong education and ample access to healthy foods and recreational spaces. And it means addressing poverty whether it is tucked into pockets or widespread in our communities.

This connection between our health and our community was affirmed by the release of the latest County Health Rankings and Roadmaps—an initiative of the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The latest installment showed that those of us who live in the least healthy communities in America are twice as likely to live shorter lives as those who live in healthy communities. And these least healthy communities have twice as many kids living in poverty.

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Why Empathy is Essential to a Culture of Health

Apr 11, 2014, 11:34 AM, Posted by Tara Oakman

Peace activist Zak Ebrahim speaks at TED 2014

Everyone knows it is hard to get 2-year-olds to do anything on a schedule. They want to do everything their way, on their own time. As you can imagine, trying to get my twins out the door each morning—let alone take a bath or eat a meal, can be quite a challenge. After trying a number of different parenting methods, I have discovered that the one way I can usually motivate them is to talk about feelings, and get them to recognize how their actions affect their sibling. Just yesterday, the only way I could get my son out of the bath was by telling him that his sister was sad and lonely waiting for him. And then, and only then, did he move.

Building empathy has been a critical strategy in my household of late—not only because it helps motivate them, but also because it is an important part of their social development. Lately I have been thinking about empathy on a larger scale, beyond my household, and how critical it is to building a Culture of Health.

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Head Start Program Uses Brain Science to Help Kids Heal

Mar 20, 2014, 3:40 PM, Posted by Jane Isaacs Lowe

In the late 1990s, a major study of adverse childhood experiences by Kaiser Permanente in California found that people who had been exposed to traumatic events such as violence or abuse during childhood were much more likely to have serious health problems as adults. Over the next decade, advances in neuroscience explained how childhood trauma can harm brain development and change the way kids feel and act in response to even normal events in their lives.

So, what to do? How do you protect or heal vulnerable children? An article on an innovative pre-school program in the Fixes column of yesterday's New York Times is an example of some solutions that are starting to emerge.

In 2010, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) partnered with local funders and Crittenton Children's Center in Kansas City, Mo. to pilot a new kind of Head Start program that would provide caring support to pre-schoolers exposed to traumatic events—homelessness, abuse, the loss of a parent, for example. The idea was to create a web of support among all of the adults who would interact with kids throughout their day, including parents, teachers, administrators, even the school bus driver. The school would also give kids specific tools to help them deal with their emotions in a healthy way and build resilience.

Head Start Trauma Smart wanted to ensure that the children would master the skills they need by the time they start kindergarten, because kids who are already falling behind in kindergarten have a much harder time succeeding in school and living a healthy life. The results of the pilot were so promising that in 2013 RWJF gave Crittenton Children's Center a $2.3 million grant to expand the Head Start Trauma Smart model throughout the state of Missouri. 

Watch a new video documenting how Head Start Trauma Smart works. Hear some of the stories of kids who have been exposed to traumatic events that are almost unimaginable and of the caring adults who are helping them heal. 

The parents and school staff are trailblazers, doing inspired and inspiring work to help bring out the best in each and every child. And while there is nothing that they are doing in Missouri’s Head Start programs that couldn’t be done in every community, it’s not easy to get systems of care to adopt this kind of change.

New York Times columnist David Bornstein explains why this program is so significant. “Trauma interventions can be highly effective but the challenge today is extending them from therapeutic settings—which are limited and expensive—into the broad systems that serve larger numbers of children.”

Here at RWJF we think a lot about what it takes to build a culture of health in America. There are few better examples than the Head Start Trauma Smart pre-school, where every child has the chance to thrive, and every adult who crosses their path has an opportunity to be a positive influence. And where great ideas that improve health spread to more communities where they can help more families in need.

Investing in Children to Improve the Nation's Health

Jan 27, 2014, 6:28 PM, Posted by Susan Dentzer

RWJF recently convened a panel of distinguished guests for a Google+ Hangout to examine targeted interventions that could help America’s youngest children live healthier, happier, and safer lives. Here's an archived version of the Hangout.

"It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men," wrote Frederick Douglass, the 19th century African-American social reformer, writer and orator. A century and a half later, to improve the health of Americans, it's essential to start with kids.

That’s a preeminent conclusion of the new report of the RWJF Commission to Build a Healthier America called Time to Act: Investing in the Health of Our Children and Communities. The report focuses on ways to influence the upstream determinants of Americans' generally poor health, including low levels of education and incomes, unsafe environments, and non-nutritious food. Of the panel's three top recommendations, the first is distinctly child-centric: "Invest in the foundations of lifelong physical and mental well-being of our youngest children." Were he alive today, Douglass would surely agree.

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Shielding Young Brains from the Effects of Toxic Stress

Nov 13, 2013, 3:45 PM, Posted by Kristin Schubert

young mother with her children

Before the science on addiction was developed, we blamed smoking on bad choices. Once we understood how the brain worked, we were able to devise strategies to change behavior, and smoking plummeted. 

As David Bornstein points out in two outstanding recent New York Times columns, the science of toxic stress is setting the stage for another health revolution that is just as far-reaching. It is forcing us to rethink the way communities deliver services─health care, education, and more─to our most vulnerable.

Read the first column

Read the second column

Every day, there are young children who are abused. Who witness violence in their homes or neighborhoods. Who are malnourished. Or who have parents who struggle with drug or alcohol use. We now know that those adverse experiences change the way their young brains develop, and affect their mental and physical well-being later in life. These children are more likely to have heart disease, cancer, and hypertension as adults. They are more likely to use drugs, suffer from depression, and commit suicide. They are more likely to drop out of school, spend time in prison, and be homeless. 

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Investment in Kids, Communities = Investment in Health and Future

Jul 16, 2013, 3:59 PM, Posted by Michelle Larkin

Children swinging on swings in a playground.

As a parent, I want my daughter to have every opportunity to succeed in life. Some would say I obsess about it, making sure she’s exposed to all kinds of music, sports, languages, people, places, and families. My spouse and I give her a stable home filled with love and structure, and we teach her how to face challenges and learn from them, believing this will help her make good choices and have every opportunity to be healthy and happy in her life.

You might be asking, “what in the world does this have to do with the work of the Foundation?” Well, last month the Foundation convened the 2013 Commission to Build a Healthier America to discuss the importance of early childhood development (pre-K education that help kids learn the skills they need to succeed in school and life) and community development (not just economic development, but using resources to create communities with safe housing, quality education, parks, and a thriving economy).

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Trumping ACEs: Building Resilience and Better Health in Kids and Families Experiencing Trauma

Jun 19, 2013, 4:18 PM, Posted by Susan Promislo

ACEs Mobile

Fifteen years ago the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study found that children exposed to traumatic events were more likely to develop mental and behavioral health problems like depression and addiction. They were also more likely to have physical illnesses like heart disease and diabetes.

Today, based on that evidence, we are witnessing a health revolution.

An op-ed published today in The Philadelphia Inquirer highlights a recent summit and ongoing efforts in Philadelphia to raise awareness about the negative impact of ACEs on health, education, and other outcomes. The piece states:

Neuroscientists have found that traumatic childhood events like abuse and neglect can create dangerous levels of stress and derail healthy brain development, putting young brains in permanent "fight or flight" mode. What scientists often refer to as "toxic stress" has damaging long-term effects on learning, behavior, and health. Very young children are especially vulnerable.

The same message was echoed in testimony today at the RWJF Commission to Build a Healthier America convening in Washington, D.C., where panelists like Jack Shonkoff of the Harvard Center for the Developing Child emphasized the need for early childhood interventions that focus on building the capabilities of parents to protect their children from high levels of violence and stress, and model resilience. 

Continuing to develop our understanding of the connection between ACEs and poor health and other social outcomes, and supporting interventions like Child First, Nurse-Family Partnership, and other efforts that work to stabilize fragile families and put children on the path to healthy development  will help shape RWJF’s ongoing efforts to foster a vibrant culture of health in communities nationwide.

Learn more about ACEs

Helping Little Children Face Big Challenges ... Including a Parent in Prison

Jun 14, 2013, 3:17 PM, Posted by Culture of Health Blog Team

Alex Sesame Street Character

Having a parent in jail can lead to poorer health as children transition to adulthood. This "adverse childhood experience" is one of many that kids face growing up in America, but being the child of a prisoner has its own unique challenges.

Just ask Alex. He may be orange, with spiky blue hair, but he understands what close to two million kids go through.

Alex is a Sesame Street character featured in a new video and toolkit as part of the new "Little Children, Big Challenges" series.

A new post on the NewPublicHealth blog explores the issue, and explains how a White House "Champions of Change" event ties in.

Read the blog post