Now Viewing: Early Childhood Development

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

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

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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What If All Children Could Attend Preschool?

Jan 3, 2017, 3:00 PM, Posted by Susan Mende, Tara Oakman

In Europe, rich and poor kids alike are enrolling in early care and preschool programs in large numbers. These accomplishments offer us insights for our collective efforts to strengthen early education in the U.S.

For the past 18 years, every 4-year-old in Oklahoma has been guaranteed a spot in preschool, for free. These kids are learning their letters, numbers, colors and shapes. They’re also developing arguably more important social and emotional tools--how to make friends, feel empathy, solve problems, manage conflict. These are the kind of building blocks children need to become thriving adults.

Nearly 75 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled in Oklahoma’s pre-K program. That's one of the highest participation rates in the country. But if we look across the United States, we see that just 61 percent of kids between the ages of 3 and 6 are enrolled in pre-K, daycare or other formal early childhood education program. 

Why? Of course, many parents stay home or have a friend, neighbor or relative take care of their kid. But a recent Harvard poll of parents with children under the age of five highlights the struggles families face in finding quality, affordable child care. Many parents reported having limited options and said that the cost of child care had caused financial problems. Low-income families were especially likely to report difficulty accessing care.

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Home Visits Work: Let’s Make Them Universal

Nov 14, 2016, 1:31 PM, Posted by Martha Davis

Every family deserves an equal opportunity to build a healthy, nurturing environment that helps their kids thrive. That’s where home visits come in.

Some of the most fulfilling and valuable experiences of my early career involved working as a home visitor about twenty years ago. I traveled through Philadelphia’s most underserved neighborhoods with a team from the MomMobile, a community-based organization that provides free support and education to families facing the challenges that pregnancy and parenting bring. I’ve personally witnessed the powerful impact home visits have on families, and that’s why I’m so passionate about the role they can play in building a Culture of Health.

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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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Why Ashoka is Investing in Children's Wellbeing

May 25, 2016, 2:04 PM, Posted by Tim Scheu

Why is the organization that coined the term “social entrepreneur” putting an emphasis on children's wellbeing? Because it's a critical step in fostering changemakers in our communities.

Did you know that a playground for elephants needs water, plants and rhino playmates? Or that ‘Frogtown,’ the Kermit-friendly analog, needs a rainforest canopy to enable sound sleep and protection for eggs? At least, that was the case during an empathy exercise at Ashoka’s “Bring Your Child to Work Day.”

Even at a young age, children understand the multiple facets of wellbeing: safety and physical fitness, but also emotional attachment. As caregivers for the imaginary animals that populated their cardboard playgrounds, our children wanted a culture of health. As a father to three little girls, I want that same thing.

But in the United States, we don’t often operate from a mindset of wellbeing—or rather, we’re preoccupied with a very limited definition of wellbeing. The individuals, communities, and societies that surround us tend to view wellbeing as only material or physical wellness. Is that playground really safe? How many children are visiting the hospital every year? How many are living outside of homes? This approach to wellbeing creates structures which are reactionary, deficit-oriented and focused on reducing the negative effects of physical harm. We can do better.

Fortunately, leading social entrepreneurs like Dr. Terrie Rose are on the case. Using her venture, Baby’s Space, to transform the norms of childcare in low income neighborhoods, Terrie is ensuring that young children are not only safe, but are also offered emotional stability and opportunities for attachment with their caregivers. Tomas Alvarez is another example. Through Beats Rhymes and Life, Tomas works with mental health workers to offer a hip-hop-based therapy alternative to kids that have felt marginalized by traditional services.

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Can a Single Question Help Families Confront Poverty?

Apr 13, 2016, 10:30 AM, Posted by David Krol

A new recommendation for pediatricians aims to help the one in five children in the United States who live in poverty.

During most of the week, I spend my time here at RWJF working on programs to develop leaders in health and health care and to address childhood obesity. But on Friday afternoons, I am at Eric B. Chandler Health Center in New Brunswick, N.J., seeing children and families. Eric B. Chandler is a federally qualified health center, and we serve a lot of poor, immigrant families. The children I see are more likely to have asthma or tooth decay than are children who live not too far away. They’re also more likely to be overweight, and to face adverse childhood experiences like family trauma or violence.

In some sense, this isn’t surprising. Poverty is one of the biggest health risks that children face today. One in five young people in the United States lives in poverty, and it’s present in urban, suburban, and rural communities across the country. My colleagues James Marks and Kristin Schubert recently described what lasting impact poverty can have on children.

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The Most Important Thing We Can Do to Give Kids a Healthy Start in 2016

Dec 29, 2015, 9:00 AM, Posted by Giridhar Mallya, Martha Davis

Supporting parents and families is one of the most critical things we can do to safeguard a healthy future for our nation's kids.

We talk a big game, as a nation, about how much we value our kids. After all, “the children are our future,” right?

But here’s the thing: our investments and policies don’t yet line up with this value. Spending on children makes up just 10 percent of the federal budget, and that share is likely to fall. The outcomes are clear: Child well-being in the United States ranks 26 on a list of 29 industrialized nations in a UNICEF report. We must do better!

So here’s our recommendation of the absolute best thing we can do to give kids a healthy start in 2016: support parents and families.

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Collaborating Across Sectors to Grow Healthy Kids

Sep 30, 2015, 1:21 PM, Posted by Alonzo L. Plough

Schools are usually considered to be part of a system separate from the health care system, but they play an important role in building a Culture of Health. See how cross-sector collaborations can ensure children strong starts to healthy, productive lives.

At Cincinnati's Oyler School, I watched as a third-grader received a free eye exam and then pored over the selection of eyeglasses, trying on several pairs, eventually settling on a pair of funky blue frames. He shared that he was looking forward to receiving his glasses, which he'd be able to take home for free the following week. The student’s teacher had noticed that he was having trouble seeing the board in their classroom and was empowered to do something about it. By forging partnerships with nonprofits and government agencies, Oyler has created a vision center, health clinic and dental clinic—all within the school.

Oyler has undergone a transformation over the last decade—from a school plagued by increasing poverty and declining enrollment to a school that is boosting graduation rates and helping improve the surrounding community. Oyler ensures students and their families have access to healthy meals by providing kids breakfast, lunch and dinner and sending them home with food on the weekends. It is part of a movement to create "community schools" that address kids' health needs and get them access to resources that allow them to succeed in the classroom and for years to come.

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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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