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​Leveraging Science to Inform Policies that Strengthen Learning and Health in a Post-COVID-19 World

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The National Prevention Science Coalition to Improve Lives and the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University co-hosted a briefing with internationally recognized early childhood development expert Jack P. Shonkoff, M.D., to discuss the critical opportunity that lies before us to prevent costly, lifelong problems in physical and mental health, learning, and development for all Americans.


Now is the time to rethink policies and programs in order to ensure a strong start for every young child. Why? Because early childhood policies and services are at a critical inflection point—longstanding concerns about fragile infrastructure and chronic funding constraints have been laid bare by fallout from the pandemic. A different approach is needed for our children, our families, and the strength of our communities.


The rapidly moving frontiers of 21st century science provide a valuable source of fresh thinking that could be used to catalyze more effective investments in the early years of life. The experiences and relationships that very young children have and the environments in which they live, learn, and grow can either support or disrupt their healthy development, with consequences—either good or bad—for their potential and, ultimately, our nation’s future.


Many of us are now familiar with the importance of early brain development, which Dr. Shonkoff has been a leader in sharing around the world. In this briefing for lawmakers, leaders of human services systems, intervention developers, physicians, other scientists, and the public, Dr. Shonkoff explained how the brain is indeed connected to the rest of the body—yet health and education are still separated in our policies. He explained how the experiences we provide young children and pregnant mothers get inside the body, with lasting impacts on children’s readiness for school and both physical and mental health across the lifespan. It is time to apply this knowledge. A new approach could save our nation hundreds of billions of dollars in future health care costs alone.

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Julius B. Richmond FAMRI Professor of Child Health and Development, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Graduate School of Education; Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital; Research Staff, Massachusetts General Hospital; Director, Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University

Watch the Replay!

Featuring Dr. Jack P. Shonkoff


Please visit the Center on the Developing Child at:

Recommended Readings from Dr. Shonkoff:

How Early Childhood Experiences Affect Lifelong Health and Learning

How is ongoing, severe stress and adversity in early childhood connected to chronic disease in adults? And, what can we do about it? In this animated video, narrated by Center on the Developing Child Director Jack P. Shonkoff, M.D., learn what the latest science tells us.

Topics: Brain DevelopmentLifelong HealthMental HealthRacismToxic Stress

Media Type: Multimedia

Published: 2021

Connecting the Brain to the Rest of the Body: Early Childhood Development and Lifelong Health Are Deeply Intertwined

Topics: brain architecture, lifelong health, mental health

Media type: Reports & Working Papers

Published: 2020

Health and Learning Are Deeply Interconnected in the Body: An Action Guide for Policymakers

Topics: brain development, lifelong health, mental health, toxic stress

Media type: Briefs

Published: 2020

InBrief: Connecting the Brain to the Rest of the Body

Topics: lifelong health

Media Type: Briefs

Published: 2020

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