“Is It Good for the Children?”— Early Childhood is Good for the Children, and the Community

 

By Jane Partridge
Project Coordinator
Visions for Early Learning

 
The Masai tribe in Kenya is legendary for its fierce and mighty warriors. Because of their fearsome reputation, it might surprise you that the traditional greeting among the Masai is,
And how are the children?
This acknowledges the high value the tribe places on children’s well-being.
Even warriors without children of their own answer by saying: “All the children are well.”
“All the children are well,” means that life is good. That despite the daily struggle for existence, peace and safety prevail; that the priorities of protecting the young and vulnerable are in place; and that society has not forgotten its reason for being. …
If we could keep this question always at the forefront of our minds just imagine the possibilities. Imagine if every parent, every educator, every policymaker, indeed every person … could truly say without hesitation … “our community is good for the children.”
— Sandra Romero, Thurston County Commissioner and Chair of The Thurston Council for Children and Youth

 
Imagine the possibilities of every legislator, every policymaker, every parent, every educator, using the lens suggested by Thurston County Commissioner Sandra Romero: Is it good for the children?
 
That question has jumped onto the front page on the heels of Washington Gov. Inslee’s $2.3 billion education plan, which Inslee notes addresses the legal, moral and economic imperative of fully funding kindergarten through 12th grade. Gov. Inslee’s plan also includes significant funding around increasing access to preschool programs for children from low-income families; funding for programs for children with special needs and to increase the number of families receiving home visiting services; and continued funding for programs designed to improve quality in child care.
 
Early learning professionals within our state’s early learning coalitions see firsthand the benefits for children and families that can result from the early interventions recognized in Gov. Inslee’s budget. His plan has earned early learning a place on the state and national stage – but also makes it part of a discussion that will likely focus less on children and more on the realities of statutory wrangling, legal compliance and the realities of a state budget.
 
As a state and as a nation, however, awareness is increasing that what is good for the children is, in fact, actually good for the community. Increasing numbers of studies cite the health, social and economic benefits of investments in prenatal intervention, home visiting programs and quality early learning.
 
Studies by health insurance companies, likely devised to identify ways to reduce health care costs, have proven the impact of childhood trauma on adult health.
 

 
Quality early learning opportunities are linked to outcomes such as increased employment and income for adults, as well as better metabolic and cardiovascular health measures.
 

 
Similar results are linked to weekly interventions by home visiting professionals; their visits focus on parenting skills and encouraging development of cognitive and social-emotional skills. A study of home visiting clients showed that years later, children who had received home visiting saw earnings increased by 25 percent.
 

 
If, indeed, the lens of early learning must be viewed through its benefits to the adult population and the bottom line of a state budget, the evidence exists for our state’s legislators to support early learning. Advocacy efforts can focus on the studies that prove it.
 

Further Reading

 
Governor’s $2.3 billion education plan focuses on student success
Offer opportunities for our youngest learners with high-quality early learning, $156.3 million total. Makes the largest-ever state investment in early learning. It invests in proven programs to ensure more students start kindergarten ready to learn. First, $79.8 million is provided for 6,358 new spaces, which includes more full-day slots, in the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program, the state’s preschool program for children from low-income families. With the additional spaces, a total of 16,449 children from low-income families will have access to preschool. The state will continue to improve child care quality by providing $70.5 million for the state’s Early Achievers child care rating program that trains child care providers in effective early learning strategies. This investment will reach 50,639 more children. To meet rising demand for intervention services provided through the Early Support for Infants and Toddlers program, the state will also provide $4.0 million for 1,500 more children with special needs. And $2.0 million will be used to increase the number of families receiving home-visiting services.
 
Do Politicians Love Kids?
 
The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study
Over 17,000 Kaiser patients participating in routine health screening volunteered to participate in The Study. Data resulting from their participation continues to be analyzed; it reveals staggering proof of the health, social, and economic risks that result from childhood trauma.
 
Creating Opportunity for Families: A Two-Generation Approach, by the Annie E. Casey Foundation
A new KIDS COUNT policy report makes the case for creating opportunity for families by addressing the needs of parents and their children simultaneously. Creating Opportunity for Families: A Two-Generation Approach describes a new approach to reducing poverty, which calls for connecting low-income families with early childhood education, job training and other tools to achieve financial stability and break the cycle of poverty — and recommends ways to help equip parents and children with what they need to thrive.

 
Early Childhood Investments Substantially Boost Adult Health
Investing in children has been demonstrated to improve their lives, both during the school-age years and afterward, as assessed by outcomes such as employment and income; furthermore, these investments often help those in the most need. Campbell et al. (p. 1478) report that these investments can also lead to improved adult health. Results from a randomized and intensive intervention that involved 122 children in four cohorts recruited in the 1970s suggest that full-day child care for the first 5 years of life has produced adults in their 30s with better metabolic and cardiovascular health measures.
 
Labor market returns to an early childhood stimulation intervention in Jamaica
The intervention consisted of weekly visits from community health workers over a 2-year period that taught parenting skills and encouraged mothers and children to interact in ways that develop cognitive and socioemotional skills. The authors reinterviewed 105 out of 129 study participants 20 years later and found that the intervention increased earnings by 25%, enough for them to catch up to the earnings of a nonstunted comparison group identified at baseline (65 out of 84 participants).
 
 

COMMENT