From the CEO

Early Childhood Development

By Mike R. Fraser, PhD

These are exciting times for maternal and child health programs nationwide. Policy makers are looking to invest in new programs in support of moms, children, and families and early childhood is one of those areas where there is great interest. In the Senate Finance Committee’s health reform bill there was recognition of the need to invest in quality home visitation programs – to the tune of $1.5 billion over five years – and the draft legislation places state Title V programs in a critical coordinating role for these activities. In addition, a number of new investments have been proposed for early childhood education and development in both the President’s Fiscal Year 2010 Budget and new legislation before Congress. It is refreshing to see such interest in programs to support our nation’s children, but what does all this mean for those of us working in maternal and child health? 

First of all none of these proposed investments is a given. With draft health reform bills just now being melded in the Senate and with the need for the House and Senate versions to be merged in Conference there is no telling just what parts of the proposed investments in children will make it through the legislative process.  And, with the Federal government operating on a Continuing Resolution for the short term, proposed increases for early childhood education are on hold until Congress appropriates funding later this fall. Thus, there is a concerted need for continued advocacy, education and information sharing with your representatives and their staff so they can better understand the impact of these investments in your states and communities. 

Second, and tied to the above, it is not enough to say that more investment in early childhood programs is good for kids: we need to show how and we need to show the proof. This spring’s conversations about home visiting programs are illustrative of the way evidence is being used to shape investments in maternal and child health programs. We know supporters of our programs want to help kids but they want to do it with programs that work. Hence, we need to continue our rigorous program and outcome evaluations so that we have data to demonstrate the effectiveness of our programs nationwide. 

Third, we need to take a systems approach to early childhood. A systems approach, versus disease or discipline specific approaches, is essential to building effective programs that work for families. Many states are engaged in the State Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems Initiative – a Federal program that supports the integration of critical components of health, education, parenting and family supports within states. The learning and expertise gathered from this program and others like it should be tapped to inform future work to integrate early childhood programs and ultimately improve the physical, mental, and social health of our nation’s children. 

Isn’t it exciting to see so much interest in the work we do? Now is the time to leverage that interest in support for our programs and more importantly the health of America’s most precious asset: our children.