Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Can high-quality preschool programs make children healthier when they grow up? A new study suggests that they can.

“A new analysis of the Abecedarian preschool program, one of the oldest and most cited U.S. early childhood intervention programs, shows positive effects on adult health. Using recently collected data in a biomedical sweep, this research finds that children who were in the treatment group have significantly better health in their mid-30s,” according to a research summary on the Heckman Equation website.

The research was a joint project of Nobel Prize-winning, Economics Professor James J. Heckman and his colleagues at the University of Chicago along with researchers at the University College London and at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina (FPG). Their findings were published last month in Science.

The new study looked at children who attended North Carolina’s Abecedarian preschool program in the 1970s, and found lower rates of pre-hypertension for adults in their mid-30s, as well as lower risk of total coronary heart disease. In men, there were lower combinations of obesity and hypertension.

As the New York Times explains, researchers had already looked at cognitive and academic outcomes such as “whether the treated children would, for example, be less likely to fail in school. The answer was yes. Over all, the participants’ abilities as infants were about the same, but by age 3 they had diverged. By age 30, those in the group given special care were four times as likely to have graduated from college.” (more…)

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Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Data can help policymakers make better decisions. And while state governments do collect some early care and education data, a recent report — the “2013 State of States’ Early Childhood Data Systems” — calls on them to do a better job of gathering more comprehensive data and using these findings to make better-informed policy decisions.

According to the Early Childhood Data Collaborative, which released the report, states’ efforts to collect early childhood data are “uncoordinated, often incomplete,” and therefore unable to “effectively support continuous improvement efforts.” This finding is based on a survey of 50 states and the District of Columbia. The survey was completed by “state education, health and social services program staff,” according to a press release.

“Are young children (birth to age five) on track to succeed when they enter school?” the report asks. “How many children have access to high-quality early care and education (ECE) programs? Is the early childhood workforce adequately trained to meet the needs of young children? Most states cannot answer these basic questions because data on young children are housed in multiple, uncoordinated systems, managed by different state and federal agencies.”


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Photo: Caroline Silber for Strategies for Children

Photo: Caroline Silber for Strategies for Children

The drumbeat is getting louder: public investments should focus on birth to eight – those crucial years when children undergo emotional, social, academic and neurological development that can prepare them for lifelong success.

Last month, the Annie E. Casey Foundation weighed in on the birth to eight landscape in a KIDS COUNT policy paper, “The First Eight Years: Giving Kids a Foundation for Lifetime Success.”

“Behind a toddler’s soft features and halting first steps, an unseen, but extremely high-stakes, activity is taking place – the building of a brain,” the policy paper says. “What happens to children during those crucial first years will determine whether their maturing brain has a sturdy foundation or a fragile one.”

Ideally, these early years of brain development should be promoted through public policies and investments. But as Casey’s policy paper says, in these early years when children’s brains race ahead, federal funding lags behind. Federal spending is at its lowest when children are young; and since 2010, this spending has dropped and could fall to Depression-era levels.

The sad result is that too many young children don’t get the support they need. According to Casey’s paper, “by age 8, most children in the United States are not on track in cognitive knowledge and skills, and many lag in the areas of social and emotional growth, physical well-being and engagement in school.”

Only 36 percent of the nation’s third graders’ score are at or above average on math, reading and science assessments, according to a newly released analysis of the Early Childhood Longitudinal study. And only 56 percent maintain a healthy weight and are in excellent or very good health.

High quality early education and care programs can “contribute to the healthy development of young children, especially those who are in low-income families,” the policy paper says. “However, 63 percent of low-income 3- and 4-year-olds were not attending a preschool program, compared with 45 percent of their more affluent counterparts.” Rates vary “from a high of 78 percent of low-income children not attending preschool in Nevada, to a low of 45 percent in New Jersey,” where a court order has created more access.

Assessment scores, health status and preschool attendance tend to be worse for children from low-income families – and some 48 percent of the nation’s 17 million children are considered low income. The chances of living in poverty are highest in Mississippi and lowest in Massachusetts.

The Early Childhood Longitudinal analysis shows that “just 19 percent of third-graders in families with income below 200 percent of the poverty level and 50 percent of those in families with incomes above that level had developed age-appropriate cognitive skills,” according to a Casey Foundation press release, which adds, “This picture is particularly troubling for children of color, with 14 percent of black children and 19 percent of Hispanic children on track in cognitive development. Children who don’t meet these key developmental milestones often struggle to catch up in school and graduate on time and are less likely to achieve the kind of economic success and stability necessary to support a family themselves.”

“Fortunately, children who do not receive the stimulation and care they need for healthy growth and development can catch up if they receive appropriate interventions,” the policy paper explains.

What can be done? Casey makes three recommendations:

1. “Support parents as they care for their children.” Good examples of supportive efforts include home visiting programs and screenings for maternal depression as well as improved access to food stamps and employment programs.

2. “Improve access to quality early care and education, health care and other services.” States that haven’t already done so should adopt early learning standards, use Quality Rating and Improvement systems, and help parents make informed choices about early education and care programs. States should also provide voluntary, full-day pre-K.

3. “Develop comprehensive, integrated programs and data systems to address all aspects of children’s development and support their transition to elementary school and related programs for school-age children.” Children and families need “better integration and transitions among early education, K–12, health care and family support systems.”

Inspired by the Casey report, MassBudget (the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, home to the Massachusetts KIDS COUNT project) released a brief on the importance of mental health screenings for mothers and children that praises Massachusetts for its leadership in this area.

As local, state and federal policy makers press forward, Casey’s policy paper advises them to “look to the decades of evidence on best practices in early childhood fields as they advance their legislative efforts.”

It is evidence that can be used to “make the case for a comprehensive and integrated birth through age 8 system that ensures all children have a real chance to succeed and contribute to a stronger nation.”

The time to act is now.

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Photo: United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley

Photo: United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley

More than 200 people came to the Boston Children’s Museum last Thursday night to attend “Conversation with the Boston Mayoral Candidates – Early Childhood and Education: Closing the Achievement and Opportunity Gaps.”  Strategies for Children, Boston Children’s Museum, Thrive in 5 and United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley cosponsored the event along with 31 other organizations.

Both candidates – City Councilor John Connolly and State Representative Marty Walsh — participated, each on stage separately. Candidates answered questions posed by the night’s moderator, WBZ political reporter Jon Keller, and from the audience, which included early educators, providers, pediatricians, college students, professors of higher education, teachers, advocates, and citizens.

As Carolyn Lyons, the president and CEO of Strategies for Children, explained to the audience in her introduction, the forum builds on the momentum that has been fueled by early education proposals from Governor Deval Patrick and other governors,  the Massachusetts legislature and President Obama’s bold proposal to expand preschool programs nationally.

The candidates were asked to come prepared to articulate their vision for Boston’s children and families and discuss what they would do for children and families should they become mayor. They responded by (more…)

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Mayor Logo

This Thursday, October 24, from 6:00 – 9:00 p.m., the Boston Children’s Museum hosts a Conversation with the Boston Mayoral Candidates. Jon Keller, WBZ-TV News’ Political Analyst will moderate the conversation.

To retain Boston’s status as an economic leader and hub of innovation in the years ahead, the next Mayor must improve educational outcomes for the city’s children. The achievement gap is evident long before children enter school, and we will not succeed in closing it unless we target resources to improve early learning and healthy child development.

Join us for a conversation with the two candidates running for Mayor and hear more about their vision for children and families in Boston.

This event is sponsored by: Boston Children’s Museum, Strategies for Children, Thrive in 5, and United Way of MA Bay and Merrimack Valley.

Co-sponsors to date include:  ABCD ● Associated Early Care and Education ● BOSTnet  ● Boston After School and Beyond ● Boston Association for the Education of Young Children ● Boston Children’s Hospital  ● Boston Opportunity Agenda ● Boys and Girls Club of Dorchester ● Catholic Charities of Boston  ● Cradles to Crayons ● The Children’s Trust ● Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative ● Ellis Memorial & Eldredge House, Inc ● Families First Parenting Programs ● Family Nurturing Center of Massachusetts   ● Family Service of Greater Boston ● Friends of the Children – Boston ● Generations Incorporated ● Horizons for Homeless Children ● Jumpstart ● MA Afterschool Partnership ● MA Association for Early Education and Care ● Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics ● MA Kids Count ● MA Head Start Association ● Raising A Reader MA ● Reach Out and Read ● Room to Grow ● United South End Settlements ● Wheelock College

For more information, please contact tdosremedios@strategiesforchildren.org

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Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Just as children and adults sometimes do, infants, toddlers and preschoolers can struggle with behavioral and mental health issues. Fortunately, early childhood programs can address this challenge by connecting children and their families to appropriate services. The sooner very young children get the help they need, the better off they are likely to be.

To serve children in the commonwealth, Massachusetts is investing $1.25 million in grant funds for the Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation Services Program.

Jointly supported by the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) and the Department of Mental Health (DMH), the program provides “social and emotional development supports for early education programs serving young children,” according to an EEC press release from earlier this summer.

The plan is to boost educators’ “core competencies, skills and abilities to assess children’s social and emotional progress and to respond to children in behavioral distress,” the press release explains. Doing so can help children and families overcome behavioral challenges and also reduce unnecessary suspensions and expulsions in early education and care settings. (more…)

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Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child has a smart interactive feature on its website that boils down years of research into five compelling facts that can be used by advocates, parents, healthcare providers, and anyone trying to improve outcomes for one child or for a community of children.

The interactive feature, called “Five Numbers to Remember About Early Child Development,” presents easily accessed images and sources for these facts:

- 700 per secondIn the first few years of life, 700 new neural connections are formed every second. “These are the connections that build brain architecture – the foundation upon which all later learning, behavior and health depend,” as the five numbers presentation explains.

- 18 months. At age 18 months disparities in vocabulary begin to appear. These disparities are based on whether children are “born into a family with high education and income or low education and income. By age three, children with college-educated parents or primary caregivers had vocabularies two to three times larger than those whose parents had not completed high school. By the time these children reach school, they are already behind their peers unless they are engaged in a language-rich environment early in life.” (more…)

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In Quotes

“As trusted authorities in child health and development, pediatric providers must now complement the early identification of developmental concerns with a greater focus on those interventions and community investments that reduce external threats to healthy brain growth. To this end, AAP [American Academy of Pediatrics] endorses a developing leadership role for the entire pediatric community—one that mobilizes the scientific expertise of both basic and clinical researchers, the family-centered care of the pediatric medical home, and the public influence of AAP and its state chapters—to catalyze fundamental change in early childhood policy and services.”

American Academy of Pediatrics, Policy Statement, 2012

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Brain research tells us that children’s early experiences affect the physical architecture of the brain. Playful, loving, language-rich interactions between parents or caregivers and young children have a positive impact on the wiring of the young brain, laying the foundation for literacy and other healthy development. Conversely, toxic stress – stress so unrelenting the body doesn’t return to a calm baseline – has a deleterious affect on children’s growing brains and bodies.

This is the science behind a new policy on toxic stress adopted recently by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Among the authors of the new policy is Dr. Jack Shonkoff, the pediatrician who heads the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard and whose landmark 2000 book “From Neurons to Neighborhoods” helped revolutionize the way we think about the complex relationship between nature and nurture. (See above video of a forum at the Harvard School of Public Health with Shonkoff, AAP President Robert Block, and Roberto Rodriguez, White House special assistant to the president on education policy. Read Boston Globe interview with Shonkoff.)

“Toxic stress might arise from parental abuse of alcohol or drugs,” Nicholas Kristof writes in The New York Times. “It could occur in a home where children are threatened and beaten. It might derive from chronic neglect — a child cries without being cuddled. Affection seems to defuse toxic stress — keep those hugs and lullabies coming! — suggesting that the stress emerges when a child senses persistent threats but no protector. (more…)

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Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

“Healthier students are better learners.” This was the message that Charles E. Basch, a professor education at Teachers College, Columbia University, delivered at a recent Boston Public Schools forum on health and the achievement gap. Basch, the author of numerous articleson the relationship between health and educational achievement, was the keynote speaker at the event in the auditorium of the Boston Public Library.

In determining which health factors are educationally relevant, Basch considers the extent of health disparities, the causal effects on educational outcomes, and the feasibility of school-based programs and policies. Using this lens he comes up with seven “educationally relevant health disparities [that] impede motivation and ability to learn through at least five causal pathways: sensory perceptions; cognition; connectedness and engagement with school; absenteeism; and dropping out.” (more…)

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