Early Childhood Services
By Phyllis J. Sloyer, RN, PhD, PAHM, FAAP
How many times have you looked at those precious pictures of toddlers who are smiling, playing, being cuddled by their parents or being totally mischievous? Early childhood is a period of physical, developmental, and mental change and growth; creating and marking the future of each child. It is also one of the most vulnerable periods in a child’s life. The events and experiences in a young child’s life can either lead to future well-being or create a lifetime of poor physical, developmental, and emotional health. The most recent National Survey of Children’s Health indicated that approximately 37% of parents in the United States were concerned that their young child (ages 0-5) had a problem with their developmental, social, or emotional growth.
The research describes the poor health status and school achievement in children who live in poverty, have little or no family support or interaction, and are exposed to other adverse social determinants of health. We also know that physical or emotional trauma can lead to adverse adult outcomes as measured in higher levels of alcoholism, drug use, mental disorders and chronic illnesses.
Clearly, there is a great deal of evidence about what leads to later physical, emotional, and social mastery. However, there is no single national or state policy that focuses on all of the elements a young child needs in his or her life that will lead to such mastery. State maternal and child health programs have worked with public and private partners to begin putting the parts together; keeping in mind that parents and other caregivers are at the center of the very young child’s environment and that their support and nurturing shape positive development. Some of those “parts” include:
- Early and continuous physical, developmental, and emotional screening
- Medical homes that are linked to a comprehensive system of health and social supports
- Early intervention programs that focus on the positive interactions between parents and children and enforce those interactions in a child’s everyday routines, activities, and practices
- Quality childcare
- Social supports and community engagement
- Parent support and training
- Adequate health insurance
- Linkages between health, education and social services
I hope this issue stimulates you to think about the difference you can make for families, systems of services, quality early childhood services, and early childhood policies. I fervently hope that we can erase the pictures of vulnerable children who have lost the sparkle in their eyes because we neglected to create the opportunities for them.