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Shawna Croaker and Jody Claus, Published November 30 2013

Letter: Invest now in early childhood

In the newly released report “Birth to Age Eight Years – A Critical Time for Investment,” the Annie E. Casey Foundation tracked 13,000 children and found that by third grade, 64 percent were delayed in cognitive knowledge skills (below average in math, reading or science), and 30 percent were delayed in social and emotional development. Applied to a typical classroom of 25 kids, 16 will be delayed cognitively and seven will have difficulty with focus, listening and/or getting along with others. Social-emotional skills – a child’s ability to control impulses, get along, focus and listen – are not only important for relationships but also crucial for children to gain academic success. If you can’t focus or listen well, you can’t learn well. What does this mean for the future?

Research shows these children will have higher high school dropout rates, decreased education, decreased employment and earnings, and increased substance abuse and depression. The costs to North Dakota in reactive services such as welfare, Social Security disability, social services, unemployment and Medicaid will skyrocket. Experiences during the first years of life determine whether a child’s brain has a strong or fragile foundation for learning and interacting. Yet this report states that our federal spending on children is lowest in these early years and continues to decline, despite research proving its importance and long-term implications for a successful society.

All children are affected by our inattention to early development through increased school violence, bullying or overwhelmed teachers and school staff. To prepare our children and community for success, the report sets forth three policy recommendations:

• Support parents as they care for their children.

• Improve access to quality early care and education, health care and other services.

• Ensure that care is comprehensive and coordinated for all children from birth through age 8.

What we need to do for our children:

• Support legislation and local officials who understand the importance of early childhood and make it a priority.

• Fund local services that provide early care and education and help decrease stress for families.

• Support parents by providing family-friendly workplace policies.

• Identify children who may be struggling through early screening and assessment. Ask your child care provider, teacher or physician for more information.

• If you have concerns, don’t just “wait and see.” Seek guidance from family, friends and professionals.

E• Become an advocate for our children and the future of our state by voicing concerns to local and state leaders.

This report strengthens prior research on the importance of early childhood investment and its connection to the long-term success of our children and our nation. Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman points out that the longer society waits to intervene in children’s lives, the more costly and difficult it becomes to make up for early setbacks – both for the struggling child and for the nation as a whole.

Read the entire report at www.aecf.org. Additional information is available in the KIDS COUNT Data Center. For information on how to support young child in your life and to find local resources, go to www.rvcscc.org or www.halfachild.com.

Croaker, LICSW, and Claus, MS, LAMFT, both of Fargo, wrote on behalf of the Children’s Consultation Network.