March 4, 2022
A recent article in the Deseret News shares a recipe for cultivating strong children with better opportunities for a great future. The recipe includes advice and tips for parents, communities and policy makers to help give children the best possible head start in life.
How Parents and Policies play a role in helping young kids thrive.
Children that live in a loving two parent home that are provided for both physically and mentally have a better chance at an easier life. Kids in these homes are more likely to have adequate shelter, creative outlets, quality family time and unconditional love which increases their odds of having a successful life.
Cynthia Osborne, a professor of Early Childhood Education and Policy at Vanderbilt University says that these vital gifts from parents are not enough for kids to thrive. Osborne says society needs to provide gifts also, that include family friendly policies that help children to excel in their environment. Osborne believes that policies that help families, especially those that are struggling, are both generous and self-serving if one believes that children are a societal gift and they will repay any investments made to them. She goes on to say, “children will shape our country’s economy, entrepreneurial landscape and competitiveness; they will drive the future workforce and policies”.
Working moms and child care subsidies
Every child needs a stable home, health care, food and safety as the foundation for their well-being. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation children also need other protections, including proven policies to aid families with very young children, especially families with economic and other challenges. These protections will help to ensure a great future for children.
Osborne knows that getting a child’s early years (prenatal to 3) right, is very important, because it will predict a lifetime of health and well-being. During this very young age children begin to develop their sense of self, they grow confident or fearful depending on their circumstances and they form relationships that will help to shape further relationships in their lives. Every child should have the opportunity to be born healthy and raised in a stable, nurturing and stimulating environment with limited exposure to adversity.
The article references research which states that in order for babies to be successful from the very onset, their parents need resources and skills to help them nurture their babies. Prenatal care is one resource that helps parents get ready to have healthy babies. Other resources include policies and strategies to help states attain well-child goals.
The 2019 Bureau of Labor Services report indicates 6 out 10 women are working moms with school-age children, these moms are working due to economic necessity. Researchers are trying to help working moms by advocating for affordable quality health insurance and a liveable wage. Four states have implemented these policies to help families (California, Washington D. C., Maryland and New Jersey) with subsidized child care so kids are safe while their parents are at work or in school. These states offer comprehensive screenings, connections to programs if needed, home visit programs, early head start, early intervention programs and prenatal care.
The article emphasizes the importance of child care by saying if parents do not have a safe, affordable and quality daycare option, then parents may not be able to work as a means to provide a better life for their children.
Osborne goes on to say, “We’re paying a lot of attention to implementations because just having a policy on the books if no one is using it, if it’s not generous enough, if it’s difficult to access, may not be as effective. You may not be getting the returns that you would be expecting or making the impact on well being.”
Strong Child Development Goals
The number of people that understand the importance of the 0-3 year range is increasing, but currently there is very little guidance to help improve outcomes for this age group, says Osborne.
The Vanderbilt University Prenatal-to-3 Impact Center is not only focusing on child development but also prioritizing healthy births, access to services, physical and emotional health of parents, a parents ability to work and working on a strong parent-child relationship.
Osbourne claims that the needs of children cross all income levels but policies usually target the socioeconomic disadvantages of children of color and of those of lower socioeconomic status. Those families are less likely to have a stable income or access to paid time off for things such as family illness or bonding with a very young child. The fact is that higher-income households are more likely to get the help they need while middle class families are stuck between having too much or not enough.
How States Help Their Families
According to Osbourne, many states have already independently taken steps to help families. Some states are investing substantially in childcare and expanding eligibility for subsidies, which in the long run increases the size of the workforce. Other states have implemented paid family leave for working families and others will raise their minimum wage to $15 an hour.
The birth rate in America has decreased, many experts believe it’s due to the cost of child care. With the threat of having smaller new generations and economic stagnation, there are child care subsidies which could help. There are many different financial challenges that will make couples either not have children or prolong the occurrence, this is a concern for policymakers because delaying or foregoing having children has significant consequences to society. The 2021 American Family Survey found that 17% of the people surveyed said if they could get child benefits from the government, their willingness in having a child or more children would increase.
Osborne says, when investing in early intervention programs, children are better prepared to attend school, the rate of child retention in school decreases as does the need for special education funds. Investing in parents’ ability to work will financially increase how a parent is able to provide for their children which decreases the need for government assistance.
In closing Osbourne says, “What I wish is that policymakers could understand that there are both immediate and long-term benefits to investing in young children and their parents’ in terms of cognitive development, in learning and socioemotional development and physical health. And those benefits last a lifetime.”
We maintain the best way to cultivate strong, healthy, successful children is through collaboration with parents, communities and policymakers. It is essential that we invest in parents and their children when they are young to ensure optimal growth in our investments. We must share the understanding that an early investment in children and their families is an investment in them but also an investment in ourselves, our communities, our economy and our country.