A Healthy Early Childhood Action Plan: Policies for a Lifetime of Well-being highlights more than 40 policy target areas that are key to achieving national goals of reducing toxic stress and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and improving the lives of millions of children.
Living with prolonged stress and/or adverse experiences can significantly increase a child’s risk for a range of physical, mental and behavioral problems – increasing the likelihood for hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cognitive and developmental disorders, depression, anxiety and a range of other concerns.
Currently, around one-quarter of children ages 5 and younger live in poverty and more than half of all children experience at least one ACE. According to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one-quarter of children experience physical abuse (28.3 percent) and substance abuse in the household (26.9 percent) while sexual abuse (24.7 percent for girls and 16 percent for boys) and parent divorce or separation (23.3 percent) are also prevalent.
“More and more studies show investing in early childhood pays off in a lifetime of better health and well-being,” said Jeffrey Levi, PhD, executive director of TFAH. “There are dozens of policy levers we can and should be pushing to ensure all children have high-quality preventive healthcare; safe, stable, nurturing relationships, homes and communities; good nutrition and enough physical activity; and positive early learning experiences.”
The report calls for increased public health engagement in early childhood areas, with a series of recommendations including to:
Build beyond the traditional healthcare system by integrating health and other social supports, including accountable health communities for children, by:
- Ensuring every child has access to high-quality and affordable healthcare;
- Building systems to help identify and provide support for children’s needs beyond the traditional medical system, but that have a major impact on health;
- Focusing on a two generation approach to healthcare – and social service support;
- Modernizing and expanding the availability of mental health and substance misuse treatment services – for both parents and children;
- Expanding the focus of a trauma-informed approach across a wider range of federal, state and locally supported services; and
- Improving services and care coordination for Children and Youth with Special Healthcare Needs (CYSHCN).
Promote protective, healthy communities and establish expert and technical assistance backbone support to help spread and scale programs nationally and in every state, by:
- Improving the collection, analysis and integration of child health, well-being and services data to better assess trends and target services and programs;
- Strengthening the role of federal, state and local health departments as the chief health strategist in communities; and
- Establishing a support organization in every state that provides expertise and technical assistance.
Increase investments in core, effective early childhood policies and programs, by:
- Making programs and services that promote early childhood well-being a higher priority to ensure they can be delivered on a scale to help all families (ranging from home visiting programs to child welfare services to increasing economic opportunity for families to child care and early education); and
- Better aligning systems and financial resources to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of health, social services and education services.
The report includes a series of maps showing the status of different states on key trends and policy areas and case studies of evidence-based and model programs, organizations and initiatives—which are putting these recommendations into action—including the Nurse Family Partnership, Family Check Up Models, Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors, Good Behavior Game, Child-Parent Center Program, Crittenton Children's Center at Saint Luke’s Health System, Wholesome Wave, Community Asthma Initiative at Boston Children’s Hospital and many others.
“If we work together across sectors – bringing together the collective energy and resources of diverse partners – we will have a better chance of achieving the common goal of a healthy start for all of America’s children,” said Gail Christopher, chair of TFAH’s Board of Directors and vice president for policy and senior advisor at the WK Kellogg Foundation. “This report shines a light on many promising policies and programs. But the question remains whether we can garner the public will to turn the potential into the promise that improves the lives of our next generation.”
The report was supported by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.