Critical Investments Should Target the First Eight Years of Life, Report Finds

Posted November 4, 2013
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Newsrelease firsteight 2014

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s lat­est KIDS COUNT pol­i­cy report, The First Eight Years: Giv­ing Kids a Foun­da­tion for Life­time Suc­cess, presents a strong case for invest­ing in the ear­ly years of a child’s life. Decades of brain and child devel­op­ment research show that kids who enter kinder­garten with below-aver­age lan­guage and cog­ni­tive skills can catch up — but only if they are phys­i­cal­ly healthy and have strong social and emo­tion­al skills.

All chil­dren need nur­tur­ing and plen­ti­ful oppor­tu­ni­ties to devel­op dur­ing their cru­cial first eight years,” said Patrick McCarthy, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Foun­da­tion. Today’s com­pli­cat­ed world can strain fam­i­lies’ abil­i­ty to ensure their chil­dren are receiv­ing all the stim­u­la­tion and care they need to devel­op to their full potential.”

The report details how a child’s ear­ly devel­op­ment across crit­i­cal areas of well-being is essen­tial to make the effec­tive tran­si­tion into ele­men­tary school and for long-term school suc­cess. Accord­ing to a new­ly released analy­sis of the Ear­ly Child­hood Lon­gi­tu­di­nal study that began to track 13,000 chil­dren who were in kinder­garten in 199899, by third grade, only 36% of chil­dren were on track in cog­ni­tive knowl­edge and skills, 56% in their phys­i­cal well-being, 70% in their social and emo­tion­al growth and 74% in their lev­el of school engagement.

The analy­sis shows that just 19%of third-graders in fam­i­lies with income below 200% of the pover­ty lev­el and 50% of those in fam­i­lies with incomes above that lev­el had devel­oped age-appro­pri­ate cog­ni­tive skills. This pic­ture is par­tic­u­lar­ly trou­bling for chil­dren of col­or, with 14% of black chil­dren and 19%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.

For chil­dren to suc­ceed, class­room learn­ing should be inte­grat­ed with oth­er aspects of child devel­op­ment, such as social, emo­tion­al and phys­i­cal devel­op­ment, to cre­ate oppor­tu­ni­ties for chil­dren to devel­op the full array of com­pe­ten­cies they will need in life. Many states and com­mu­ni­ties have already begun the work of bring­ing the pro­grams and ser­vices for young chil­dren and fam­i­lies into a cohe­sive sys­tem. To pre­pare all of America’s chil­dren for suc­cess, the report sets forth three broad pol­i­cy recommendations:

  • Sup­port par­ents so they can effec­tive­ly care and pro­vide for their chil­dren. States and the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment should make it eas­i­er for par­ents to nav­i­gate the array of pro­grams that can help fam­i­lies by align­ing and stream­lin­ing ben­e­fits pack­ages. Chil­dren also ben­e­fit when their par­ents have oppor­tu­ni­ties to gain edu­ca­tion and skills, and when their par­ents have well-pay­ing, good jobs and the chance to build a career.
  • Increase access to high-qual­i­ty birth-through-age‑8 pro­grams, begin­ning with invest­ments that tar­get low-income chil­dren. The report urges states to adopt Ear­ly Learn­ing and Devel­op­ment Stan­dards that set clear expec­ta­tions for child devel­op­ment. Invest­ing to ensure that all chil­dren reach impor­tant bench­marks, such as grade-lev­el read­ing pro­fi­cien­cy by third grade, will pay long term div­i­dends. In addi­tion to hav­ing high-qual­i­ty care and edu­ca­tion for all kids, states should ensure access to afford­able and com­pre­hen­sive health care with time­ly screen­ings that can catch dis­abil­i­ties or devel­op­men­tal delays in young children.
  • 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. States should use con­sis­tent mea­sures of child devel­op­ment that pro­vide broad assess­ments of well-being, includ­ing progress across key aspects of devel­op­ment. Coor­di­nat­ed edu­ca­tion­al efforts should use tran­si­tion plan­ning mod­els that help chil­dren move suc­cess­ful­ly through the birth-through‑8 system.

The First Eight Years: Giv­ing Kids a Foun­da­tion for Life­time Suc­cess includes data on ear­ly child­hood devel­op­ment for every state, the Dis­trict of Colum­bia and the nation. Addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion is avail­able in the KIDS COUNT Data Cen­ter, which also con­tains the most recent nation­al, state and local data on hun­dreds of indi­ca­tors of child well-being. The Data Cen­ter allows users to cre­ate rank­ings, maps and graphs for use in pub­li­ca­tions and on web­sites and to view real-time infor­ma­tion on mobile devices.

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