Recent advances in the science of brain development offer us an unprecedented opportunity to solve some of society’s most challenging problems, from widening disparities in school achievement and economic productivity to costly health problems across the lifespan. Understanding how the experiences children have starting at birth, even prenatally, affect lifelong outcomes — combined with new knowledge about the core capabilities adults need to thrive as parents and in the workplace — provides a strong foundation upon which policymakers and civic leaders can design a shared and more effective agenda. Early childhood development can influence lifelong learning, behavior, and both physical and mental health — for better or for worse. To be maximally effective, policies and services should:
- Support responsive relationships for children and adults.
- Strengthen core life skills.
- Reduce sources of stress in the lives of children and families.
These three principles can guide decision-makers as they choose among policy alternatives, design new approaches, and shift existing practice in ways that will best support building healthy brains and bodies. They point to a set of key questions: What are current policies, systems, or practices doing to address each principle? What could be done to address them better? What barriers prevent addressing them more effectively?
Moreover, these design principles, grounded in science, can lead policymakers to think at all levels about the forces that could lead to better outcomes for children.
At the individual level, policies can focus on skill-building for both kids and adults; at the human services level, they might focus on the critical place of relationships in promoting healthy development, supportive parenting, and economic productivity; and at the systemic or societal level, policies can emphasize reducing sources of stress that create lifelong challenges for children and make it extraordinarily difficult for adults to thrive as parents and breadwinners.
Read the full article on early childhood development at the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University.
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The three principles point to a set of key questions: What are policies, systems, or practices doing to address each principle? What could be done to address them better? What barriers prevent addressing them more effectively?
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