The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s latest KIDS COUNT® policy report, The First Eight Years: Giving Kids a Foundation for Lifetime Success, calls for expanding investment in the nation's youngest children. The report explains how the experiences of early childhood are critical to a child's social, emotional and intellectual development and one's prospects for success in school and in life.
"From the moment they are born, young children are ready to learn," the report beings. "What happens to children during those critical first years will determine whether their maturing brain has a sturdy foundation or a fragile one."
Poverty paves a fragile foundation.
An analysis of the Early Childhood Longitudinal study found 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. The picture is worse for children of color: only 14 percent of African American children and 19 percent of Hispanic children are on track with cognitive developmental milestones. This is important because there's evidence that kids who fall behind in the early years are more likely to get caught in the intergenerational cycle of poverty. These children struggle in school, are less likely to graduate and are ill-prepared to secure jobs that can support their families.
The report has three key recommendations for building a sturdier foundation for all kids:
1) Support parents so they can effectively care and provide for their children. The Annie E. Casey Foundation has been advocating two-generational strategies to solving social problems because "parents are the most important adults in a young child's life and the biggest contributors to their future sucess." Children suffer the consequences of poverty and they benefit when their families have economic security and opportunities to access education and stable jobs. The Foundation calls on states and federal agencies to streamline safety net programs available to families such as SNAP, WIC, Medicaid, Nurse-Family Partnership, housing assistance. This would reduce stress and increase the accessibility and efficiency of such services.
2) Increase access to high-quality birth-through-age-8 programs, beginning with investments that target low-income children. Head Start and Early Head Start serve only a fraction of eligible children and families.The report urges states to provide voluntary, full-day, high quality pre-K to low-income 3-and 4-year olds, and to adopt Early Learning and Development Standards that set clear benchmarks for child development. This aligns with the Annie E. Casey Foundation's commitment to promoting reading proficiency by third grade (See Early Warning Confirmed: A Research Update on Reading by Third Grade.) More than 80 percent of black, Hispanic and American Indian children are not proficient readers. The report also recommends that states routinely screen children to identify health, learning and developmental issues, from lead exposure to vision and hearing problems.
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. The foundation urges better coordination of care for children from birth through age 8. States should use consistent measures of child development that provide broad assessments of well-being, including progress across key aspects of development, and should implement mechanisms for collecting, tabulating and sharing information across departments and agencies responsible for child and family well-being.
The new report is the latest addition to KIDS COUNT®, the Annie E. Casey Foundation's annual analysis of state trends and rankings in child well-being.
Read the report.