Child Development Health & Learning Has Been Declining, When Will Policymakers Listen to Science?
The article titled “An Action Guide for Policymakers’ ‘ by the Center on Developing Child at Harvard University has provided decades of valuable insights into the connection between health and learning in children and offers guidance for policymakers to improve both aspects.
Health and Learning Are Deeply Interconnected in the Body:
Scientific research has shown that the conditions and environments in which children develop have a profound impact on their lifelong health and educational achievement. The brain and other systems in the body interact with each other and adapt to the environment. By supporting families with young children and strengthening responsive relationships, policymakers can build a foundation for social-emotional development, school readiness, and future learning, while also promoting physical and mental health.
Stress Response and Chronic Inflammation:
The article highlights the effects of chronic adversity and stress on children’s health. While inflammation is a natural response of the body to stress, persistent inflammation resulting from chronic adversity can have long-term negative effects on physical and mental well-being. Children living in adverse environments experience more acute inflammation and are prone to chronic inflammatory conditions that can last a lifetime, including heart disease, diabetes, depression, arthritis, and autoimmune diseases. By reducing sources of ongoing stress such as poverty, violence, and food insecurity, policymakers can significantly reduce the need for costly treatments and improve overall health outcomes.
Developmental Timing and Early Experiences:
Experiences during the prenatal period and the first few years after birth play a crucial role in shaping lifelong health outcomes. Research shows that adverse experiences during pregnancy and early childhood, such as excessive stress, poor nutrition, and toxic environmental exposures, can affect developing biological systems and increase the risk of various health conditions in adulthood. By implementing policies and programs that reduce stress, prevent toxic exposures, and support pregnant mothers and families with young children, policymakers can improve health outcomes across the lifespan and save substantial healthcare costs.
In order to develop more effective policies and programs, the article suggests science-based principles:
Strengthening Community-Based Networks:
Policymakers should focus on creating a seamless ecosystem of services by strengthening community-based networks of services for families, primary healthcare for children and their caregivers, and early care and education programs. Integration of primary care pediatrics into the early childhood ecosystem requires changes in healthcare reimbursement, professional training, and measurement capacity.
Confronting Sources of Adversity:
Policymakers should address structural inequities that impose significant burdens on families raising young children. Poverty, racism, violence, housing instability, food insecurity, and social isolation can have detrimental effects on children’s well-being. Effective interventions should build resilience in both children and caregivers, but addressing these issues at a societal level is crucial to achieve greater impact.
Nurturing Essential Life Skills:
Nurture social emotional skills and values which are required for Establishing and Achieving Goals, Regulating Emotions and Behaviors, Establishing Daily Family Routines, and Nurturing Children’s Development of Similar Abilities.
By considering these key points and implementing the suggested principles, policymakers can make significant strides in improving the health and learning outcomes of children. Investing in early childhood development and creating supportive environments for families will not only benefit individuals but also contribute to a healthier and more productive society in the long run.