Decades of research has shown that a young child’s earliest experiences and relationships can have profound implications on his or her future mental and physical health, brain development and other outcomes. But there are still significant gaps between what the research suggests and what actually happens in policy and practice. How can policy more closely reflect the science?
Four experts discussed that and other questions during a panel discussion held Nov. 5 as part of a summit of early childhood development professionals and policymakers.
Broadly, it asked the questions: What’s needed to ensure that all children in Connecticut have the best possible start in life? What are the barriers to getting there? And what can change them?
“We have a failure in our human service infrastructure that no one’s calling out,” said Connecticut Social Service Commissioner Roderick L. Bremby, one of the panelists. “Zero to 5 population, we’ve got about 24 million kids in this country and of those, about half are living in poverty, a quarter of those in deep poverty.”
Panelists discussed a range of topics, including strategies to address maternal depression, programs that provide in-home support to new mothers, family leave, public messaging about parenting, changes in welfare policy to allow mothers to spend more time with their infants, the tension between providing universal services and targeting the most vulnerable families, and the stress poor families face when they can’t afford diapers.
Video: Summit on developing effective early childhood policies, sponsored by the CT Early Childhood Funders Collaborative:
“What poverty really looks like for parents, we found that the number one predictor of a mother’s mental health status, above and beyond food insecurity, housing instability, was diaper need and the inability to provide a sufficient supply of diapers for their children under 3,” said Megan Smith, a professor at the Yale Child Study Center and director of the New Haven MOMS Partnership, a program that provides mental health care and other services to low-income New Haven women at supermarkets and other community locations.
In addition to Bremby and Smith, the panel included Myra Jones-Taylor, commissioner of the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood, and Judith Meyers, president and CEO of the Child Health and Development Institute.
The discussion was inspired by Mirror reporter Arielle Levin Becker’s series Starting early: The long reach of childhood trauma, which was published in January 2015 and focused on the links between early adverse experiences and the development of mental and physical health problems later in life – and factors that can protect against those effects.
The summit was sponsored by the Connecticut Early Childhood Funders Collaborative – a project of the Connecticut Council for Philanthropy – in partnership with the Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut and The Connecticut Mirror.