I am a Latina woman from San Antonio, TX. Growing up, I lived in a middle-class household with a loving family and had the privilege of attending some of the best schools in the city. Eventually, I earned an undergraduate degree from The University of Texas and a graduate degree from Texas State University. I recognize that I am one of the lucky ones. I’ve been reflecting on privilege a lot lately. It’s difficult not to right now–COVID-19 has illuminated and amplified existing inequities in the world and it seems as if many people in our country are just beginning to wake up to individual and systemic racism.
Working in the field of early childhood, I’ve also been reflecting on the impact of privilege on early life experiences and lifelong success. In the education sector, there is a huge emphasis on the importance of high-quality prekindergarten and its impact on kindergarten and school readiness. But we can’t ignore the first few years of life. In fact, we should be paying most attention to–and investing the most heavily in– the first 1,000 days of a child’s life. The first 1,000 days are the most critical for brain development. What happens during this time period will have a tremendous impact on a child’s social emotional and cognitive development, health and well-being, and school and lifelong success, from prekindergarten to post-secondary education to career.
The research is clear–high-quality early childhood experiences are critical for individual and societal success. Children who experience high-quality early childhood care and education are 25% more likely to graduate high school, 4x likely to have completed a bachelor’s degree or higher, and earn up to 35% more in wages as an adult. Additionally, research has shown that the return on investment (ROI) in high-quality birth-five programs is high–there is a 13% ROI through better outcomes in education, health, sociability, economic productivity, and reduced crime. But as a society, we’ve been largely ignoring this research. Our policies, practices, and public spending don’t always align with what science tells us. Just this past week, it was announced that parents of 545 children separated at the US-Mexico border still can’t be found. It’s hard not to feel guilty. It’s hard not to compare my early life experiences with those of my fellow Latinx brothers and sisters at the US-Mexico border. How did I end up to be one of the lucky ones? In another life, maybe I am one of those 545 children separated from my family, experiencing unfathomable trauma.
Most days, I find myself wanting to curse at the television or hide under a blanket until this is all over. But if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that we must turn our privilege into action. The question is, where can we have the biggest impact? How can we ensure that underserved and marginalized communities are given the equitable access and resources that they need to succeed in elementary school, middle school, high school, and beyond?
While no one-size-fits-all approach exists–what works in your community should be designed in collaboration with whom you partner–below are some practices to consider to help strengthen the first 1,000 days of children’s lives and ensure that all children succeed in school and in life:
- Utilize The Center on the Developing Child’s Three Principles to Improve Outcomes for Children and Families. The framework emphasizes supporting responsive relationships for children and adults, strengthening core life skills, and reducing sources of stress in the lives of children and families. These three principles can guide individuals to reflect on their programs. How do existing policies and programs support each of the principles? What could be done better? What barriers prevent addressing these principles more effectively?
- Increase access to high-quality early experiences for historically marginalized communities. A recent study in Chicago showed that Black students, students living in lowest-income neighborhoods, and students living in mostly-Black neighborhoods were three times more likely to enroll in full-day pre-K following comprehensive policy changes to the city’s prekindergarten access and enrollment systems.
- Support policies that strengthen the prenatal-to-3 period. Recognizing that the first three years set the foundation for all future health and well-being, the Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center recently released a Policy Roadmap. This roadmap outlines science-driven policies and goals that impact the health and well-being of children and families and provides a report for every state. It should be noted that Texas has 0 out of the 5 recommended policies in place.
If you’re interested in learning more about supporting the first 1,000 days of life and helping to ensure that children and families are supported and successful from prenatal care to post-secondary education and beyond, I’d love to chat more. Send me an email or connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Together, we can help build healthier and more prosperous futures.