Author Archives: Kristin Schubert

Boosting A Baby’s Brain Power by Supporting Parents and Caregivers

May 1, 2017, 12:00 PM, Posted by Kristin Schubert, Matthew Melmed

Caring relationships stimulate babies’ brain growth during the most critical years of their development. RWJF and ZERO-TO-THREE are working together to help policymakers hear from families about policies that support them in providing what the latest science tells us all babies and toddlers need.

Did you know that more than one million new neural connections form every second in the first few years of a child’s life? The science is clear. Our brains grow faster from birth to age three than at any other later point in our lives. A baby’s early experiences and relationships stimulate these neural connections, laying the foundation for emotions, language, behavior, memory, physical movement and more.

That’s some serious brain growth, and a serious task for new parents. Anyone who knows or is already a parent will tell you that nobody does it alone. All families need support in order spend quality time with their babies and surround them with caring relationships and early experiences that will help them thrive in childhood—and for a lifetime.

That’s why ZERO TO THREE and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) launched the Think Babies campaign to help families let policymakers know that the healthy development of infants and toddlers should be a national priority.

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Parents Need Flexible and Affordable Child Care

Oct 18, 2016, 10:00 AM, Posted by Kristin Schubert

Child care plays a critical role during the formative years and is key to familial stability. A new poll illustrates the challenges that parents face in accessing quality, affordable child care, and the opportunities for improvement.

I remember how it felt when I returned to work after the birth of my first son. Trying to figure out child care was confusing, overwhelming, and downright stressful. Of course I wanted the very best care for my baby, but I didn’t know what “high quality” really looked like. Our first arrangement was with a nearby woman who cared for a few other children in her home. Pretty quickly, I decided it wasn’t the right fit. I cobbled together a mix of family and part-time care while searching for a new solution. I am so grateful I had friends, family, and a supportive work environment to pull this off. I then tried in-home care, hiring a string of visiting nannies, none of which worked out. One of them quit with no notice, leaving me in a very difficult position at work.

Then I found what seemed like a great center-based program, and was prepared to sign up. But as I left the building after my initial visit, I bumped into a friend who had a bad experience there and advised looking elsewhere. What if she was right? I couldn’t take the chance, so I kept searching, relying on the generosity of family in the meantime.

Eventually I found a center that worked out. I felt my baby was nurtured and well-cared for, but the costs were enormous, and frankly, to this day I am still not sure if it was truly “high quality.”

A poll released yesterday by NPR, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health finds that parents and caregivers, like me, recognize the value of high quality child care and early education experiences.

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How to Help Students by Helping Their Parents

Jul 27, 2016, 12:00 PM, Posted by Abbey Cofsky, Kristin Schubert

Communities share the specific steps they took to maximize academic success by supporting parents and families.

We’re all well aware that education leads to better jobs and higher income. Just as important, research also links education to reduced risk of illness, increased vitality, longevity and academic success that extends to future generations.

That’s why the situation for schools in Lawrence, Mass., was particularly concerning back in 2010. At the time, more than one out of every four Lawrence kids dropped out of high school. This led the Massachusetts Department of Education to put Lawrence’s schools into receivership by 2012, placing them under new management to safeguard state assets. The state-appointed “receiver,” was granted authority to develop an intervention plan to overhaul the schools through steps you might expect such as expanding the school day and replacing half the districts’ principals.

But the district also took one critical step by acknowledging that a family’s financial stability strongly influences how well children do in school—and whether they drop out.

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It's Time to Reframe How We Think About Education and Health

May 17, 2016, 10:03 AM, Posted by Kristin Schubert

Kids spend more time at school than anywhere outside their homes, making schools where we have the greatest chance of improving kids' health trajectory through physical, social and emotional development.

My sister, Katy, and I grew up in a family of teachers. My mother, my father and my aunt all dedicated themselves to educating, inspiring, encouraging and supporting each student who came through their classrooms. While I chose to go into public health, Katy followed in their footsteps and is a fifth-grade teacher. Many of her students experience challenges at home that no child should have to face. So in order for her students to be engaged in learning, not only does she need to know her lesson plans, she also needs to know whether a student has eaten breakfast that day or is suffering from trauma that’s gone untreated. When a student acts out, she needs to understand what underlying issues are causing them to behave that way. She’s seen first-hand how difficult it is for her students to learn when many of their needs go unaddressed. And every day, I can see how the work we’re each doing in our respective fields intersects.

As the research shows, your education has far-reaching implications for your health. The more educated you are, the more likely you are to live a longer, healthier life. Now, more than ever, having a high school diploma can predict your likelihood of having diabetes, heart conditions or other diseases. And across racial and ethnic groups, life expectancy improves with increasing years of education.

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Success Starts Early: What We Can Learn From a 5-Year-Old's Social Skills

Jul 16, 2015, 4:05 PM, Posted by Kristin Schubert

Groundbreaking research from a 20-year study has found that the social skills a child exhibits in kindergarten are linked to their health outcomes in early adulthood.

As I was thinking about writing this blog, I did what I typically do when I need some insight—I asked my kids for help. I asked my 7-year-old son what he thought about sharing. He said, “Sharing is the nice thing to do. You should share your things with your little brother or sister.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because it makes you feel good and they might just share back with you too.”

So simple, right? And so hard to teach at times!

As a busy working mom of two young children, my days are filled with helping my kids learn how to get along in the world. From learning to feed and dress themselves, to learning how to get along with others and how to recognize and deal positively with their emotions. It’s a job I wouldn’t trade for the world! And it is also one that can be daunting at times, requiring the utmost patience and perseverance. Some days I wonder if I am doing all I can to help them grow up healthy and I know many parents feel the same way.

The good news is that today, more than ever, we have incredible insight into what parents, caregivers, and teachers can do to ensure that children grow up healthy. We now know that what was once thought of as “nice” skills to have, like being a good sharer and empathetic, are actually critical to life long health, happiness, and success.

In a newly released study in the American Journal of Public Health, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, researchers found that the social skills a child exhibits in kindergarten were linked to their outcomes—both positive and negative—two decades later in early adulthood.

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How Childhood Experiences Shape Our Nation's Health

Mar 12, 2015, 3:36 PM, Posted by Kristin Schubert

New findings strongly suggest that Americans are ready for new approaches to address early childhood trauma and stress. To do that in a big way, we need more than science—we need a movement.

I remember when I first learned about research showing that what happens to a person as a child impacts their health later in life. It was 2007, and I was pregnant with my first child. My boss and mentor, Jim Marks, brought the Adverse Childhood Experience’s (ACE) study to my attention. The Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente had surveyed 17,000 Kaiser members about their childhood experiences and compared the answers to those members’ medical records.

The ACE researchers found that the more trauma and stress you experienced as a child, the more likely you were to have cancer, heart disease, and diabetes as an adult. The more likely you were to suffer from chronic depression, be addicted to drugs and alcohol, or attempt suicide. And the more likely you were to drop out of school, be incarcerated, or chronically unemployed.

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How to Build a Healthier Millennial

Dec 11, 2014, 4:50 PM, Posted by Dwayne Proctor, Kristin Schubert

Game of Life board game. Photo: Will Folsom

 

Millennials get a lot of attention as today’s trendsetters. What are they buying? What social media are they using? How are they voting?  But there is an equally important question that is rarely raised: How healthy are 20-somethings? A new report explores that last question, and the answers are not good. An even better question might be: What’s standing in the way of healthier, more productive lives for millennials?

Adults between the ages of 18 and 26 are "surprisingly unhealthy," according to the report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the National Research Council (NRC). One out of every four young adults is obese, and those numbers are rising. One in 10 has suffered from untreated mental illnesses within the past year. What lies behind these disturbing trends might be a much bigger issue than what young people choose to eat or how they handle stress. The report points to big-picture causes—broken pathways from quality education to solid jobs, and widening disparities that make it harder for marginalized young adults to succeed.

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What Baltimore Taught Us: On a Journey to Strengthen Families

Oct 31, 2014, 1:12 PM, Posted by Kristin Schubert

Recently a team from the Foundation went to Baltimore to talk to families and community leaders, gaining their insights into an essential question for us: What can the Foundation do to strengthen the systems—health care, education, community—to create a web of support for families, one in which those at greatest risk can’t easily fall through?

What follows are my colleagues’ reflections on our time in Baltimore.

Martha Davis: I spoke with a Violence Interruptor, a Safe Streets employee who works to stop street violence. He is a 37-year-old man who has spent nearly half his life in jail, and has been shot 14 times. When I asked him how it is that he got to where he is today, he told me he came to the streets to learn how to “be a man,” but the birth of his children inspired him to want to be on the “side of peace." His was a life of violence and suffering, deep poverty, and racism; now he makes people feel safe and hopeful. He and the other Violence Interruptors are living proof that change is possible.

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To Build a Culture of Health, There Is No Place Like Home

Aug 11, 2014, 3:36 PM, Posted by Kristin Schubert

A century ago, it was normal for a doctor to make a house call to tend to a patient in need. By the time I was a child growing up in New Jersey in the 1970s and 80s, the practice had become virtually obsolete.

The case for bringing health care back into the home is becoming more compelling every day. One place where we see the potential to make a big impact is with new parents and newborns.

Last month, JAMA Pediatrics published new research from on the effects of nurse-home visits on maternal and child health. The randomized, clinical trial followed a group of low-income, primarily African American mothers and children living in disadvantaged, urban neighborhoods of Memphis over a 19-year period. Specifically, they wanted to see whether home visits conducted by the Nurse-Family Partnership before and after a birth influenced whether the mothers and children died prematurely.

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Shielding Young Brains from the Effects of Toxic Stress

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

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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