Help kids in their first 1,000 days

Most of the following information was taken from a UNICEF press release (New York, Sept. 21, 2017), which can be found at https://www.unicef.org/media/media_100893.html.

According to a recent report published by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United States is behind many other countries in establishing national policies to support parents of babies and young children. This goes against all the evidence that shows that the first 1,000 days of life are critical to a child’s development. Only 15 countries — including Cuba, France, Portugal, Russia and Sweden — have the three policies proven to be critical in supporting young children’s healthy brain development: two years of free pre-education, paid breastfeeding breaks for new mothers for the first six months, and adequate paid parental leave. These policies, UNICEF noted in a news release, help parents better protect their children and provide them with better nutrition, play and early learning experiences in the crucial first years of life when the brain grows at a rate never to be repeated.

Our country has none of these three policies in place on a national level, in spite of the fact that no period is more critical in a child’s development than the first 1,000 days of life. Of the 85 million children under 5 growing up in the 32 countries lacking any of the policies, 40 percent of them live in the U.S. and Bangladesh.

“What’s the most important thing children have? It’s their brains. But we are not caring for children’s brains the way we care for their bodies — especially in early childhood, when the science shows that children’s brains and children’s futures are rapidly being shaped,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake.

“Policies that support early childhood development are a critical investment in the brains of our children, and thus in the citizens and workforce of tomorrow — and literally the future of the world,” said Mr. Lake.

Does the U.S. really want to be at the bottom of the rankings of countries providing support to their youngest and most vulnerable citizens? Isn’t it time we addressed our failings and changed the way we think about caring for infants and toddlers? By the time children reach the age of 5, it may well be too late for their brains to recover from an environment devoid of proper stimulation, nutrition and emotional support. Our society is paying a high price for these children as they progress through school and adulthood, as our full jails, drug epidemic and violent crime rates show.

As our legislators again prepare to draft a budget in Albany, let’s start the conversation in New York state and tell the government to put our tax dollars into what really matters, the children.

The full report; “Early Moments Matter for Every Child” can be found at https://www.unicef.org/media/files/UNICEF_Early_Moments_Matter_for_Every_Child_report.pdf.

UNICEF has also launched a campaign to raise awareness about the crucial first 1,000 days of a child’s life and the critical impact early experiences have on brain development: #EarlyMomentsMatter.

“Invest in children, invest in hope”

Deborah Roddy is education program director of Children’s Corner, part of The Adirondack Arc, based in Saranac Lake.

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