Editorial by Senator Rebecca Millett
When I think about the future, I think about what we are doing for our children, and whether we are doing the hard work to ensure their future is a prosperous one.
Today, we know more than we ever have about how children grow and how to address factors in early childhood development that lead to long-term problems when those kids become adults.
Consider the example of pre-k education. In years past, formal education generally began when kids were about five years old. In some communities, kindergarten was only a half-day program, meaning kids didn’t get a full curriculum until age six, sometimes even later.
These days, we know that getting a jumpstart on education pays huge dividends. Pre-k is linked to lower rates of unemployment and violent crime, higher earnings and even higher IQs.
Those benefits are shared by all children, regardless of their background. But they are particularly important for students who experience high levels of stress during their early, formative years.
We know that a child’s development is shaped by experience, relationships and environmental factors. Positive experiences, healthy relationships and a supportive environment help build the developmental foundations for success, while stressors such poverty, insufficient food or an unstable family life risk pulling children in the wrong direction.
Those forms of chronic or persistent stress are linked to lower educational achievement and riskier behavior such as drug use. They also cause an exaggerated stress response that has a physical effect on a child’s health, weakening their defense system against diseases from heart disease to diabetes and depression.
Children exposed to these conditions need the kinds of intervention provided by supportive and consistent relationships with adults and their peers. That’s why it’s so crucial that we work together to design community safeguards and interventions to make sure all of our children have the same fair shot at healthy, prosperous lives.
Pre-k is just one example. Other initiatives can also offer strong foundational supports necessary to help the next generation succeed. Whether it’s pre-k, increased access to childcare, support for new parents, or job training for mom and dad, we can create smart, effective policies that create the environment for kids to thrive, from the home, to the classroom, and into adulthood.
States and communities that have taken innovative approaches like these have reaped the rewards of their hard work. They’re not only good for individual kids; they’re good for the economy, and for the taxpayer, who will shoulder lower costs for interventions such as law enforcement and welfare in the long-term.
That’s thinking about the future. That’s seeing the big picture. For all of our sake, let’s keep it in mind when the next Legislature returns in January.