Fact Sheet: Early Childhood Development



Background

Early Childhood Development (ECD) programs are effective in helping to aid and sustain student’s cognitive and social emotional growth. There are bodies of research that demonstrate that these and other preventative interventions have sustaining effects on students’ growth and successful outcomes throughout Kindergarten to High School and beyond.

Prevention scientists have identified a myriad of conditions (e.g., poverty, harsh parenting) and experiences (e.g., maltreatment, witnessing violence) that place children at risk for academic failure and poor self-regulation of behavior and emotion. Early Childhood Interventions and Preventative programs that have emerged from this evidence are designed to address one or more of these factors. However, in urban communities, sustainable practices are often inconsistent in their processes. Many schools fail to implement these programs with fidelity, fail to educate their parents, and lose momentum over time, due to lack of evaluation and continued accountability. There is also great difficulty in involving families and monitoring compliance with existing interventions. Moreover, many prevention programs are not adequately funded or are attached to short term funding mechanisms that come and go with the grant dollars.

It is generally acknowledged that it is more costly to remediate older children than to intervene earlier in life. The most cost-saving programs target high-risk children who have the most potential for improvement (link; link; link), although some research still supports a cost-benefit of certain models of publicly-funded, universal Pre-K programs (link). For the long run, a 2005 analysis found that early childhood programs for vulnerable populations would dramatically increase savings; by 2050 there would be an annual federal/state government budget savings of $61 billion, a GDP increase of $107 billion, and a crime related savings of about $155 billion in 2004 dollars (link). Additionally, other related work suggests that providing all 20% of the nation’s three- and four-year-old children who live in poverty with a high-quality ECD program would have a substantial payoff for governments and taxpayers in the future (Lynch, 2008). As those children age, costs for remedial and special education, juvenile and criminal justice, mental health, unemployment, and welfare benefits would decline. Once in the labor force, their incomes would be higher, along with the taxes that are returned to society. Investing in quality ECD’s programs for all children from low-income families would cost billions of dollars annually, but would create much larger budget savings over time (Lynch, 2008).

Registries employing rigorous evaluation standards include a number of programs showing good effects on early cognitive or language development (link; link; link; link; link; link). And there is good evidence for the importance of Social and Emotional Learning.

Gaps or shortcomings of current approaches

The Association of Small Foundations (2008) study showed that by the age of 3, children in low-income homes will have heard only one-third as many words as children in middle and high-income homes (10 million versus 30 million words). This research suggests, that by the time a child completes third grade, the gaps have widened significantly among students of low socio-economic status. Children who enter kindergarten with poor early literacy skills continue the trend throughout their formative and secondary years. The data shows that ten to fifteen percent of children with serious reading problems will drop out of high school and that there is a correlation of lack of reading comprehension to that of drug use and criminality. Language is the basis for development of higher order cognitive skills that underlie self-regulation; thus, its development is key to successful outcomes in multiple domains.

Lynch (2004) suggests that there is a strong consensus among experts who have studied high-quality early childhood development (ECD) programs and that these programs have substantial payoffs. Programs that focus on the building blocks for cognition and self-regulation of behavior and emotion are particularly effective in improving overall outcomes for children. There is also a growing literature on the need for interventions that are trauma-informed; stress and adversity in early childhood can have profound effects on developing neurological and physiological systems needed for self-regulation and academic achievement. However, these interventions are not available or accessible to most residents of inner-cities where they are most needed.

There are also concerns surrounding how to properly implement programs with fidelity. Importantly, prevention programs are often not adequately funded and the quality of implementation suffers. Urban environments also are not always