07 April 2010

The Center for Urban Child Policy Blog Has Moved!

Friends, we are delighted to let you know that our parent organization, The Urban Child Institute in Memphis, Tennessee, has established a Current Discussions page on their web-site.

That page now hosts our ongoing efforts to connect the very best research on early childhood brain development with both longitudinal evaluations of early interventions and policy efforts to promote stronger child development in Memphis. We hope that you will continue to engage with our work at its new address. We thank you for your feedback over the years, and we pledge to take advantage of the capacities of the new address, in particular the opportunity to engage with the larger group of researchers, and children's advocates at The Urban Child Institute.

We think you will appreciate the broader range of perspectives available at the new site. We will also make sure that the posts from affiliates of the Center for Urban Child Policy carry the tag: Research and Policy

01 April 2010

New Parent Survey Demonstrates Gaps in Developmental Knowledge

Parents control the experiences and environments that shape their children’s foundational early brain development. In June 2009, Zero to Three commissioned a survey of parents with infants and toddlers to find out how much they understand about the link between a child’s earliest experiences and their early brain development. This survey was nationally representative of parents raising young children. They also queried parents about the sources they turn to for advice on how to best support their children’s early development and while some of their findings were encouraging, others were disturbing.

The good news is that parents readily understand the links between their children’s earliest learning experiences and their cognitive development and some aspects of how to support social development.
- Fully 93% of parents surveyed understand the importance of reading to children in order to support cognitive development;
- Better than 80% understand the importance of play for supporting children’s social development; and
- Nearly three-quarters of young parents understand the importance of talking to young children to support their early language and literacy abilities (Hart Research Associates, November 2009).

Unfortunately, many parents fail to understand how early children begin to develop their social and emotional capacities and consequently they often fail to understand how strong an influence they can have on their children’s emotional development and/or what they need to do to support that development.

Science tells us that children begin to experience sadness and fear between birth and six months of age. Infants are also able to tell when their parents are upset during the first six months of life.
- 30% of parents nationwide know that their children can experience sadness and fear so early;
- Only 44% of parents know that children can tell when they are upset in the first 6 months of life and 20% thought that children do not develop that ability till they are 2 years old.
- 43% of parents were also unaware that the areas of a child’s brain which enable them to control temper tantrums do not begin to develop significantly till ages 3 to 5.
- Fully a third of African American parents and a quarter of Hispanic parents felt that children should be able to control temper tantrums by age 2.
Typically this misunderstanding means that parents assess children’s inability to exercise self-control as defiance as opposed to a lack of developmental capacity.

All of these findings beg the question, where do parents turn for information about childrearing and how can providers and practitioners get accurate developmental information into the hands of parents? The survey found that almost half (44%) of parents rely on their own parents, typically their mothers and mothers in law for information about development and parenting. A significant percentage (30%+) also look to their faith communities for information about how to guide their children’s development. Comparatively, 13% of parents said they turned to parenting books, magazines or other outside sources for advice. Zero to Three recommends that providers and practitioners need to find ways to get information into the hands of grandparents and faith communities in order to help parents get accurate information on child development.

These groups are also an important target because they are such an important source of child care for young children nationally. Before the recession, 50% of children between birth and age 3 were in family, friend and neighbor care (FFN). That percentage has only increased over the last two years since a quarter of parents surveyed had to change their child care because of financial hardship. Grandparents, extended families and friends are only becoming more important as a source of regular child care since parents are increasingly less able to afford formal care outside the home.


Hart Research Associates. (November 2009). Parenting Infants and Toddlers Today: Research Findings. Washington D.C.: Zero to Three. < docid="10881">

17 March 2010

Revisiting the Significance of Public Investment in Pre-K

Last week, the candidates for governor gathered at the Capitol for a panel discussion on issues affecting Tennessee children. One of the issues before the candidates was the future of Tennessee’s voluntary pre-kindergarten program.

If there is one lesson we should draw from more than forty years of careful scientific research on pre-school, it is that high quality early education makes a world of difference for children. The first few years of life are a period of profound brain development, and the quality of the pre-school experiences of children matters for their school readiness and achievement. Children who attend high quality pre-kindergarten programs are much more likely to reach school ready to learn.

A recent report out of the Tennessee Comptroller’s office appears to minimize the gains made by children in Tennessee’s pre-kindergarten program.
It would be a mistake to take this report at face value.

No children from Memphis City Schools (MCS) were included in the Comptroller’s study. This is an astonishing oversight when Memphis is the largest school district in the state, and has the largest concentration of both low-income and minority children in the state – precisely those cohorts of children most likely to benefit from pre-kindergarten.

The best national data shows that a wealth of benefits for young children and their communities follow when we invest in pre-kindergarten. Middle and upper income children do better when they reach kindergarten. Much more dramatic improvements are made by lower-income children.

When children who otherwise would be at-risk for poor educational outcomes attend high quality pre-kindergarten programs, their language and cognitive abilities improve, they are less likely to fail a grade, and they are more likely to complete high school and to enroll in college.

Memphis City Schools has administered a careful evaluation of children entering and completing pre-kindergarten each year since 2005. The evidence from this evaluation is clear: a year of pre-kindergarten helps children prepare for school. The average 4-year old in Memphis starts pre-k with language skills slightly behind what would be considered typical for a 4 year old nationally. With a year of pre-kindergarten under their belts, these same children are ahead of the curve when it is time to enter kindergarten. These children will show more rapid vocabulary growth as they progress through school, which will translate into stronger reading scores in subsequent grades.

What’s the bottom line? If we look only at the dollars, pre-kindergarten makes phenomenally good sense. For every dollar invested, pre-kindergarten programs return between $4 and $7. These returns are seen in higher rates of high school graduation, higher rates of college attendance, lower rates of teen pregnancy, lower rates of reliance on welfare, and lower rates of criminality.
In short, high quality pre-kindergarten is among the very smartest public investments we can make.

09 March 2010

Electronic medias show mixed effects on children’s emotional and moral development.

Children's optimal development is a function of their early environmental inputs, and electronic media is a key part of that environment. Today, American children are bombarded with electronic media, from television, to video games, computers, and iPods. The Future of Children recently released an evaluation of the effects of media on child well-being. On the one hand, the study found that content intended to encourage pro-social behavior led to increased cooperation, tolerance, and altruism among children. Similarly, children exposed to health marketing campaigns designed to prevent smoking, drug, and alcohol use and to promote physical activity and safe sexual practices were likely to engage in less risky behaviors.

On the other hand, entertainment and news programming led to higher levels of fear and anxiety among children. Similarly, high levels of media consumption are associated with unhealthy behaviors like alcohol and tobacco use. Perhaps most disturbing, young children believe that commercials are simply informative, rather than understanding their potential to manipulate.

The Take Away:
Adults advance healthy social, emotional, and moral development in children when they insure that children are exposed to age appropriate media. Adults should limit advertisement and marketing exposure, while expanding pro-social electronic media access.

Children and electronic media. (2008). The Future of Children, 18(1), Retrieved from http://www.policyforchildren.org/pdf/Children%20and%20Electronic%20Media_18_01_ExecSummary.pdf

The Urban Child Institute Event- "Brain and Body: How The Immune System Makes A Smarter Brain"

The First Years: Early Brain Stimulation May Aid Cognition

By Barbara Holden
Special To My Life

The Neuroscience Institute of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center will feature nationally recognized neuroscience professionals during a national Brain Awareness Week presentation March 18 to promote brain science and positive behaviors that enhance brain development in early childhood.

The Urban Child Institute considers stronger brain development among future generations one of the key long-term strategies for improving quality of life in Shelby County.

One fact we know now is that most brain development occurs in the earliest years of life. Most of the brain's cells are formed before birth, and most connections among cells are made during infancy and early childhood.

"There is no doubt the brain is the most flexible early in life, when synaptic connections are being made and optimized," said Dr. Staci Bilbo, a professor in the department of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University and one of the program's guest speakers.

The free presentation is open to the public and will be held at the Urban Child Institute, 600 Jefferson Ave., at 6:30 p.m. To register, call Brenda Williams at 385-4234 or e-mail her at bwilliams@theurbanchildinstitute.org.

We are fortunate to have this availability of professionals to drive understanding and improvements for early-child brain development in Shelby County.

"This is an event for child care professionals, educators, but really to reach ordinary folks -- parents and caregivers," said Dr. Paul Herron, a professor with the UT Neuroscience Institute. "We want to emphasize brain development so that parents and families have a better understanding of what causes and enriches development, learning and behavior."

A hurdle in education is overcoming a myth that because infants and toddlers aren't talking that not much is happening behind those pretty little faces. Far from it, people in their early years of life have much more brain activity occurring than they will as adults.

"You only have neural cells being born in adults in a very limited capacity," Bilbo said. "Because new neurons and new connections between these cells are the very basis of cognition, you automatically have less of it occurring when you are older than when you are young."

Parents and caregivers can have maximum impact on a young child's brain development by doing a couple of basic things.

First, talk -- a lot -- to your children. Research demonstrates that when children hear more words, spoken in complete sentences, it contributes to making them better learners and achievers later in life.

Second, environment is so important to cognitive development. Children need nurturing, loving care. Singing, playing and reading make a mighty contribution.

Barbara Holden is a director at the Urban Child Institute, a Greater Memphis organization dedicated to promoting early childhood development. The Commercial Appeal is a partner with the Urban Child Institute in this effort to help parents and other care givers learn skills that nurture and educate the minds of infants and children. For more information, go to theurbanchildinstitute.org or dial 211 for the Public Library and Information Center.

* This First Years article appeared in The Commercial Appeal on March 9, 2010.

06 March 2010

Play time supports cognitive and social development that lasts into adulthood

Often dismissed as childish, play may actually be is the most important way for young children to grow, learn about their surroundings, and actually build stronger brains. Play allows young children to hone their attention spans and to learn to focus on specific tasks. When they are at play, children are strengthening their motors skills, visual tracking, and hand-eye coordination. Cooperative play with other children helps to develop creative thinking, problem solving, decision making, and communication skills like listening, cooperating, and negotiating. Despite the growing popularity of expensive playthings, children need very little to maximize their play experiences. Uninterrupted and unstructured play time is important. Children need safe play spaces where they can explore and interact with materials freely. Boxes, spoons, blankets, and bowls can unleash creativity just as effectively as pricey educational toys.

Adults who were allowed adequate play time in childhood are more flexible, more knowledgeable about the world, and are more flexible in their thinking. In contrast, children who were denied play time are much more likely to become adults who are less trustful and less cooperative.

The Take Away: Play helps young children to develop their social, emotional, physical, and cognitive skills. Play-time is an important way to nurture optimal early childhood brain development. Children who play grow into adults who are better able to adapt and navigate through complex environments.

Advance of the science of play. (n.d.). The National Institute for Play, Retrieved from http://www.nifplay.org/science_intro.html

Grace, F. (2010). The Importance of play. Public Agenda, Retrieved from http://publicagenda.org/blogs/the-importance-of-play

Play. (n.d.). Better Brains for Babies, Retrieved from http://www.fcs.uga.edu/ext/bbb/play.php

05 March 2010

New research seeks to understand the link between infant brain development and bipolar disorder in young children

Since the mid 1990’s, the diagnosis of bipolar disorder in children has increased 4,000%. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) also realizes the damages that premature diagnosis of bipolar disorder can have on young children. In an attempt to reduce the number of diagnosis and the risk factors involved with prescribing medications with possible metabolic side effects, the DSM has created a new title for children that exhibit bipolar characteristics, Temper Dysregulatory Disorder (TDD). Scientists are hoping that the American Psychiatric Association will embrace TDD, rather than labeling children with a chronic, life-long disorder that will require a lifetime of medication.

Two Brown University researchers are studying the link between brain development in infants and later bipolar diagnosis in children. This research will focus on myelination, the creation of the fatty lining that surrounds the brain’s fibers and neurons. Recent studies suggest that abnormal myelination can lead to nuerodevelopmental disorders like autism.

The Take Away: By observing the development of normal myelination in contrast with abnormal myelination, the scientists hope to discern which regions of the brain control language acquisition, motor skills, memory, and vision in children— in addition to how they develop, and how delays are produced.

Spiegel, A. (2010). Children labeled 'bipolar' may get a new diagnosis. National Public Radio, Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=123544191&ft=1&f=1001

Two brown faculty to study brain development in infants and children with bipolar disorder. (2009). Medical News Today, Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/173314.php

28 February 2010

Poverty in early childhood affects the brain in ways that carry into adulthood

Scientists are using new strategies to examine the neurobiological effects of poverty on the developing brain. Through epigenetic profiling, hormonal studies, and neurological brain imaging, researchers can identify the effects of growing up in poverty on brain growth. The scientists find that poverty in early childhood (the first five years) has effects that last into adulthood. Compared to children from middle-income families, children who grew up in poverty finished two fewer years of school, and they worked 451 fewer hours. As a group, poor children grew up to earn about half as much and needed about $800 more in social support. Poverty in childhood also led to a greater chance of being an overweight adult, and doubled the risk of health or psychological problems.

In 2008, 14 million American children lived in poverty. In Memphis, 23% of young children (age five or younger) live in dire poverty – about $10,000 a year for a mother and child. These children are likely to live in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty and crime. Understanding the negative influence of poverty on early brain development underscores the importance of family income as one factor that promotes optimal brain development.

Due to the current recession, an additional. (n.d.). The Urban Child Institute, Retrieved from http://www.theurbanchildinstitute.org/Download.php?fileId=49da4b38dee2a3.04560655

Duncan, G, Magnuson, K, Boyce, T, & LaShonkoffst, J. (2010). The Long reach of early childhood poverty: pathways and impacts. Center on the Developing Child, Retrieved from http://developingchild.harvard.edu/

LaSantinist, J.L. (2010, February 21). Poverty in childhood can shape neurobiology: study. Yahoo News, Retrieved from http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20100222/sc_afp/sciencesocialpovertyuschildren

25 February 2010

Excessive fear and anxiety are detrimental to brain development

Persistent fear, stress, and anxiety can disrupt brain development in children, causing long-term physical and psychological delays. Fear triggers the stress response system of the brain. Long term stress response activity can disrupt the brain’s circuitry. This is especially detrimental during periods of rapid brain growth like those within the first 3 years of life. Persistent fear, stress, and anxiety in childhood can damage memory, stress regulation, and social/behavioral development. In children younger than 3, continual fear and anxiety can diminish the capacity to learn.

Infants begin to recognize fear between 6 and 12 months old. Children at this age may show anxiety when surrounded by strangers or display fear of a toy that is loud and unpredictable. As they grow, young children begin to exhibit unrealistic fears based within their imagination. These are all normal phases of growth. These fears disappear once children are able to interact socially, control inanimate objects, and differentiate between reality and imagination. Fear that is associated with threatening circumstances and maltreatment is significantly different in nature. It does not disappear.

National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2010). Persistent Fear and Anxiety Can Affect Young Children’s Learning and Development: Working Paper No. 9. Retrieved from www.developingchild.harvard.edu

23 February 2010

Affection and attachment are linked to brain development

Positive interactions with adults create emotional information that is integrated by the amygdala and stored in the hippocampus of the developing brain. These interactions including holding, singing, kissing, and gazing, spark neurochemical activities and aid in the organization and wiring of the brain. Even after emotional memories cannot be remembered, they continue to play a large role in relationship development and attachment. One-on-one interactions with adults develop the brain and strengthen the areas that teach children how to communicate in social contexts. Infants who experienced secure, positive interactions with adults are more likely to be able to establish healthy relationships later in life.

Before an infant’s sense of smell, sound, or taste has developed, the sense of touch dominates his experiences with the world. The part of the nervous system responsible for touch is the somatosensory system. It helps to shape health, sensitivity, motor skills, and even emotional wellbeing. Touch therapy and affection have been attributed to better weight gain, healthy growth, and social development in infants. Because brain growth is so rapid within the first year, affectionate interactions are vital for optimal brain development.

Holden, Barbara. (n.d.). The Urban Child Institute, Retrieved from http://www.theurbanchildinstitute.org/Downloads/FirstYearsColumn/03_04_08_Holden.pdf

Attachment and the role of the caregiver. (n.d.). Better Brains for Babies, Retrieved from http://www.bbbgeorgia.org/attachCareGiver.php

Attachment . (n.d.). Better Brains for Babies, Retrieved from http://www.bbbgeorgia.org/attach.php

22 February 2010

Improving the prospects for America's future through early childhood investment

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Organization of American States (OAS) meeting in Puebla, Mexico on initial and basic education for indigenous and rural children. Puebla is a beautiful and thriving city; and I look forward to returning soon, with my family in tow.

Additionally, the conference was an eye-opening experience in terms of public investment in early childhood development. Early childhood (particularly the period between 0 and 3) is the period of most rapid brain development, and it is the period in which targeted public investments generate the greatest financial and social returns.

While we in the United States tend to think about education as starting at kindergarten or first grade, the Mexican state of Puebla is pushing to begin their educational process much earlier. They envision a universal system of center-based education for children between the ages of 3 and 7 (the period of basic education). Meanwhile, they are developing a curriculum for initial education between a child’s birth and age 3.

The OAS conference drew speakers from Brazil, Columbia, Peru, Venezuela, Chile, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, Bolivia, the United States, and Canada, and it was striking to see the common ground shared across each of these national contexts. First, there was a keen sense of the challenges confronting the entire hemisphere. Futurists tell us that the kindergartners entering school next fall will emerge from the educational system in a dozen years or so into a world far different from the present; they will apply for jobs that don’t yet exist; and will be expected to master technologies that have yet to be invented.

Moreover, the odds of maintaining a competitive position in the workforce of the future are daunting, given worldwide population trends. To see this, we need only compare the number of children in North America with the number in India in China. There are roughly ten times as many Indian and Chinese children as there are North American children. (In other words, there are as many third graders in the top ten percent of the class in India and China as there are third graders in all classrooms in the U.S. and Canada combined; and the same is true for every grade).

How then do we best prepare our children for the world they will inherit? Here, again, the presenters in Puebla shared a similar message: The seeds of academic and life-long success are sown long before children reach school. Rightly, we lament the achievement gap that emerges between ethnic and racial groups, and between children of the poor and children of the middle-class, with lasting implications for individuals, families, and communities. But much of this achievement gap has its origin in early childhood development. In other words, to a large degree, a child’s success in school is a product of their early childhood experiences and early brain development – all of which takes place long before children enter kindergarten.

The scholars at the OAS conference were quick to highlight the good news in this story: First, a half century of careful research on early childhood brain development helps us to understand how to improve the developmental well-being of children. Second, these early years present an extraordinary opportunity to shape the future not only of children – but also of societies. This is because there is tremendous plasticity in the developing brain.

Third, the research is equally clear that – as a cohort, children who experience strong and nurturing early childhoods are likely to do better over the long term, both in school and in other facets of life.

And here is the best news of all: by maximizing the likelihood that young children will develop to their full capacity, societies have the greatest chance of shaping their own futures in the face of growing uncertainty.

16 February 2010

Family mealtimes assist in the development of relationships, language, and motor skills

Hectic work and family schedules make it difficult to plan family meals. Although 80 percent of American families say that they value family meals, only a third of families actually eat a meal together daily. Meanwhile, a growing body of research suggests that family meals are a great way to promote optimal social, emotional, and cognitive early childhood development. Healthy and nutritious meals support optimal brain development. Additionally, regular family mealtimes are an opportunity for infants to learn motor skills, be introduced to new words, and develop good eating habits. Through positive interactions and engaged eye contact, routine family meals can create trusting, supportive relationships between parents and children. Infants begin to feed themselves between 6 and 12 months of age, helping their development of fine motor skills. The mouth muscles that are exercised during self-feeding are also important in speech development. When families eat together, children hear new vocabulary and learn how to express their ideas. When parents work to include family meals in their schedules, children tend to be healthier, to do better academically, and to learn stronger communication skills.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest finds that meals cooked at home are much healthier as well. They contain half the calories than those in restaurants, are higher in calcium and fiber, and lower in saturated fats. As children get older, mealtimes offer an opportunity for parents to discuss values, expectations, school, and friends. Children who share family meal times are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol as adolescents. For more information on how to customize nutritious meals for your family, visit http://www.mypyramid.gov/

Holden, B. (n.d.). The Urban Child Institute, Retrieved from http://www.theurbanchildinstitute.org/Download.php?fileId=4936d4066bcdf9.39496939

Holden, B. (n.d.). Special to my life. The Urban Child Institute, Retrieved from http://tiny.cc/TUCI380

Mealtimes matter for healthy brain development. (n.d.). Better Brains for Babies, Retrieved from http://www.bbbgeorgia.org/physicalMealtimes.php

11 February 2010

Trends in health care coverage for American children are mixed: eligibility has expanded, but states – including Tennessee – are cutting back

Access to health care is a fundamental component of optimal early childhood brain and physical development. Across Tennessee, 158, 759 children were without health insurance in 2008. Meanwhile, an additional 646,054 children from families in poverty received health care coverage through the TennCare program. In Shelby County alone, 133,864 children received health insurance coverage through Tenncare. Across the state, an additional 32,069 children in low-income families were insured through the state CHIP program, CoverKids. In Shelby County, 4,054 children received insurance through CoverKids. In spite of rising unemployment and growing numbers of families in poverty, a lack of funds caused the state CoverKids program to suspend enrollment in December of last year.

In 2008, state Children’s Health Insurance Programs (CHIP) coupled with the federal Medicaid program provided health benefits to more than 35 million children nationwide. Outreach efforts and expanded program eligibility resulted in a reduction in the number of uninsured children across the U.S. (falling from 8.1 million in 2007 to 7.3 million in 2008). There is more good news when it comes to health care for children: the passage of the CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2009, is estimated to mean that an additional 2.6 million previously uninsured children will gain health insurance coverage.

Every Child Matters Education Fund. (2010). Where Health care reform stands in congress. Retrieved from http://www.everychildmatters.org/National/News/Where-Health-Care-Reform-Stands-in-Congress.html

Insure Kids Now. (n.d.). Facts and figures. Retrieved from http://www.insurekidsnow.gov/facts/index.html

Kaiser Health News. (2010). Millions more children added to medicaid, chip rolls in 2009. Retrieved from http://www.kaiserhealthnews.org/Stories/2010/February/04/chip-medicaid.aspx

The Urban Child Institute, . (2009). Covering kids' health needs. Center for Urban Child Policy, Retrieved from http://www.theurbanchildinstitute.org/Download.php?fileId=4abcdd75c831c2.31242311

10 February 2010

The Evidence Is Clear: Breastfeeding Promotes Optimal Brain Development In Early Childhood

The evidence continues to mount: breastfeeding promotes optimal early childhood brain development (See: Following AAP, the American Dietetic Association Supports Exclusive Breastfeeding For Six Months, Revised WIC Guidelines Provide Incentives To Breastfeeding Families, Two U.S. Health Organizations Collaborate To Improve Breastfeeding Rates). Breastfed babies do better when they reach kindergarten and as they progress through school, and they score higher on IQ tests (Horwood & Ferguson, 1998; Tanaka, Kon, Ohkawa, Yoshikawa, & Shimizu, 2009).

But what exactly is it about breastfeeding that would account for such a dramatic effect?
The answer: Human milk is packed with health-advancing nutritional benefits that promote optimal brain development in very young children. According to Melinda Johnson, nutrition instructor at Arizona State University and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, “It’s not just one mechanism…The nutrition [provided by breastfeeding] is perfect for the growing child…DHA [an omega-3 fatty acid found in breastmilk] is critical for brain development and also for nervous system development.” The existence of this crucial acid in breastmilk may help to clarify the evidence that breastfed children perform better in the educational environment (Doheny, 2010).

Additionally, human milk also includes the amino acid taurine, acknowledged for its significance for maximum neurological growth. “Newborns and preemies cannot manufacture taurine,” stated Dr. Ruth Lawrence, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ section on breastfeeding, “Taurine is one of the amino acids needed for brain growth. The brain will double in size in the first year of life…We in the breastfeeding field have been focusing on brain growth [and its importance] for a number of years.”

Despite the proven benefits, breastfeeding rates are low in Shelby County and across the state of Tennessee. Only about half (53.6%) of Shelby County mothers intend to breastfeed their infants immediately after birth, compared with 59.2% of mothers across the rest of Tennessee. Meanwhile, Healthy People 2010, the nation’s health agenda, established target breastfeeding rates of 75% at birth (For more information on breastfeeding trends in Memphis, please see Strategies for Improving Rates in Shelby County).

Policy Suggestions To Promote Breastfeeding In Our Community:

- Build Employer Support for Breastfeeding. Supply breast pumps to moms who can’t afford to purchase or rent them. Promote corporate education and support of the current law requiring procurement of break time and suitable space to express breast milk.

- Encourage Community Engagement. Actively engage husbands, partners and companions in physician visits, social support consultations, and breastfeeding promotion gatherings. Breastfeeding must emerge as the familiar and expected manner of infant feeding.

For more information on the well-being of children in Memphis and Shelby County, please visit The Urban Child Institute website at http://www.theurbanchildinstitute.org/Home.


Doheny, K. (2010, January 3). For baby and mom alike, breast-feeding may be best. HealthDay Reporter: Yahoo! News.

Horwood, L.J. & Fergusson, D.M. (1998). Breastfeeding and later cognitive and academic outcomes. Pediatrics, 101, 1-7.

Tanaka, K., Kon, N., Ohkawa, N., Yoshikawa, N., & Shimizu, T. (2009). Does breastfeeding in the neonatal period influence the cognitive function of very-low-birthweight infants at 5 years of age? Brain and Development, 31(4), 288-293.

Nationwide, the cost of quality childcare is rising faster than inflation

A growing body of scientific evidence makes it abundantly clear: high quality early childhood care and educational experiences help to promote optimal early childhood brain development. This foundation, in turn, provides a solid base for subsequent growth, development, and school readiness. Across the country, over 80% of professional families place their young children in high quality early learning centers during the work-week. Meanwhile, according to a recent report from NACCRRA, the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, high-quality care is growing increasingly unaffordable for middle and low-income families – precisely those families whose children would most benefit from high-quality early-childhood interventions.

Across the country, childcare expenses account for 10% of family income for two-parent families. For single parents, meanwhile, childcare expenses account for an astonishing 60% of the median household income (NACCRRA, 2009). In every region of the United States, the market-rate for quality childcare prices it far beyond the reach of most single-parents. Single-parents with one child pay more for childcare than they pay for food. Single parents with two children pay more for childcare than for rent. The average yearly childcare costs for an infant surpass 4-year public college tuition rates in 39 states.

Parents and the high price of child care: 2009 update. (2009). National Association of Child Care Resources and Referral Agencies, Retrieved from http://www.naccrra.org/docs/publications/supporting-docs/parents-and-the-high-price-of-child-care-2009-update/executive-summary.pdf

Devlin, K, Breland, F, & Imig, D. (2009). Updates on data, education and policy. The Urban Child Institute, Retrieved from http://www.theurbanchildinstitute.org/Download.php?fileId=4ac3b9cb2120d7.54160006

05 February 2010

Shelby County receives $1.6 million to expand accessibility to Early Head Start programs

Research shows that at-risk children who have the benefit of Early Head Start experience improved cognitive, social, and emotional development. EHS children score higher on language growth measurements, display fewer behavioral problems, interact more positively with adults, and are less likely to test into the “at-risk” category of developmental performance. Children in EHS are more likely to receive immunizations on time and to visit a physician due to illness. Moreover, parents of EHS children are more likely to engage in practices that support early learning, read to their children daily, attend school functions, and provide emotional support.

Early Head Start is a program designed to serve children from birth through age three. Early Head Start offers center-based care, home-based prenatal care, parental support, age appropriate learning, medical services, disability and mental health screenings, evaluations, and early intervention services.

Currently, there are 12,479 children income eligible for Early Head Start in Shelby County. However, there are spots available for less than one percent of these children. Limited space may be expanding as the Department of Health and Human Services announces an additional $1.6 million in grants to expand EHS in Shelby County.

03 February 2010

Every parent needs to know: Language development begins at birth, and early literacy skills help children succeed in school

Zero to Three offers good advice for new parents about how to help develop literacy in young children. Children’s relationships with books, capacity to communicate, and ability to read are directly related to their experiences with language. When parents and caregivers make books available and fun, and when they sit down to read with young children, they are helping prepare those children to succeed in kindergarten and elementary school, building their self esteem, problem-solving abilities, and social skills.

Language acquisition begins at birth. Parents should talk to babies often and with a wide vocabulary. The Urban Child Institute informs parents and caregivers about the importance of responsiveness and language exchanges. Responsive parents try to recognize their babies’ signals, allowing parent and child to communicate through a mixture of words and facial expressions. These exchanges foster brain development and prepare infants to begin sounding out different phonemes.

Positive interactions with books and play help to develop literacy among infants. Allow children to play with books in unconventional ways. Sound books, pop-up pages, and bright colors can capture the attention of infants. Naming objects in pictures aids in language acquisition. Ask children to pick out books with a specific characteristic. Creating a book with pictures of family members is a fun way to learn names and relationship words like uncle, brother, and dog.

Toddlers can improve their motor skills by interacting with “lift the flap” books. Parents and caregivers encourage a familiarity with words by posting them around the house or childcare center. Match objects around you with pictures in books. Read stories about going for a walk or about bedtime as ways to introduce those activities. Letter magnets and crayons help introduce letters, words, and the mechanics of writing. Most importantly, adults should encourage and support early literacy by providing children with ample conversation opportunities.

01 February 2010

Undercounting may cheat poor children in Memphis out of federal funds.

Title I funds provide federal support to schools with high percentages of poor children. Districts also have the option of targeting Title I funds to pre-school programs designed to support the optimal early development of at-risk children. The formula used to apportion Title I funding is based on the child poverty rate in a district relative to other states and districts. The result of this formula is that a state could experience both an increase in child poverty and a decrease in Title I funding (if poverty rates in other states rise more rapidly).

The New America Foundation has an easily navigable web feature that allows users to type in their school districts and see 2007 funding statistics, 2009 allocation estimates, student enrollment, student demographics, and poverty percentages. Users can also compare their school district with other districts within the state; as well as with state and national averages.

The New America Foundation’s calculator paints a disturbing picture of the well-being of children in Memphis and Tennessee. The rate of student poverty in Tennessee is 50 percent higher than the national average of 13.2 percent. As we would expect, the share of Memphis City School (MCS) children in poverty is another 30 percent higher than the state average, and double the national average. Even more disturbing for policy-makers, the federal statistics used in the foundation’s calculator undercount the share of poor students in Memphis by 12 percent. (According to Department of Education figures, 70.8 percent of MCS students are eligible for free and reduced price lunch, while MCS reports that 81 percent of students are actually eligible for the school lunch program).

30 January 2010

Only one-third of teenage mothers earns a high school diploma or GED

Findings released by Child Trends shows that only 34 percent of adolescent mothers will earn a high school diploma or GED. The age at first birth and education level of the mother are good indicators of the family’s socioeconomic status. Mothers who earn a diploma are more financially stable and more capable of providing necessary resources for the child’s development. Teenage mothers who delayed childbirth until 18 or 19 years old were nearly twice more likely to earn their diploma than younger girls. Studies have shown that children of teenage mothers are more likely to grow up in poverty, become incarcerated, be subjected to abuse or neglect, or have children as teenagers-thus continuing the cycle of premature fertility, poverty, and disadvantage. The attainment of a diploma increases the financial outlook for children and families.

This information is especially important in urban areas where teenage pregnancies, premature births, and infant mortality are high. Adolescent motherhood increases healthcare costs, welfare recipients, and the number of children who live in poverty. Although mothers with high school diplomas are more financially stable, researchers agree that families need to earn twice the national poverty line to adequately support a child. In Shelby County, mothers do not earn that level of financial stability until 29 years of age

26 January 2010

Introducing multiple languages to young children helps strengthen the architecture of the developing brain.

Parents and educators sometimes worry that introducing multiple languages to children too early may lead to linguistic and cognitive delays. Research performed by the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) shows that just the opposite may be true. Children introduced to a second language at an early age do not lag behind their peers. In fact, it is common for young children to mix multiple languages in one sentence, and if bilingual children show a lack of vocabulary recognition, they quickly catch up to their monolingual counterparts by elementary school. Further, bilingual children show a distinct advantage in reading acquisition due to their familiarity with a variety of phonemes. With each new language learned, the brain develops new neural connections, thus strengthening the architecture of the brain and preparing the child for future academic successes.

Experts at Zero to Three offer this advice for multilingual families. Be consistent: speak one language at home and the other outside of the home. They also point out those children who learn their family’s native language early on share a stronger sense of cultural identity. A study conducted by the SCDOE followed four different cohorts of children, each one introduced to a language at a later age (0, 3, 5, and 7 years). Results show that earlier is better. The area of the brain that permits easy language acquisition becomes active at infancy and closes around 10 years old. Cities like San Francisco have developed language immersion preschools citing benefits such as improved understanding in all academic subjects, higher standardized test scores, and better career opportunities.

25 January 2010

Women need 400 micrograms of vitamin folic acid every day to protect against birth defects

January is Birth Defects Prevention Month, and organizations like the March of Dimes and the Grain Foods Foundation are working to raise awareness of the importance of folic acid for healthy birth outcomes. The March of Dimes reports that only 28 percent of women knew that consuming folic acid helps to protect against birth defects; only 11 percent of women knew that folic acid should be taken before becoming pregnant. Serious birth defects that affect the brain and spine, like spina bifida, begin mere weeks after conception. Something as simple as eating enriched grains can prevent these neural tube defects.

For every 1,000 live births, 276.3 infants will be born with birth defects in the state of Tennessee. Birth defects were responsible for 1 in 5 infant deaths in Tennessee in 2004. Memphis already leads the nation in infant mortality, making it imperative that we emphasize proper prenatal care. Women should eat at least 400 micrograms of the B vitamin folic acid every day. This can be found in an assortment of grain products like breads, bagels, pretzels, and pastas. When compared to whole grain items, products made with enriched white flour contain twice as much folic acid.

In the United States, one out of every 33 babies born will have a birth defect, which could inhibit their physical and mental development as they grow into young children. In 2004, the costs for treating birth defects amounted to $2.6 billion. This figure includes hospital costs but does not take into consideration the expenses of treating behavioral and cognitive delays caused by defects. On January 18th, Schnucks pharmacies announced that they will provide free prenatal vitamins to women who can present a valid prescription. Help the March of Dimes and the Grain Foods Foundation by spreading the message.

22 January 2010

Preschools Reshape Pre-Mathematics Curriculum in Response to New Brain Research

New research has prompted preschools in Nashville, Boston, and Washington to create new games, activities, and curriculum to improve mathematic reasoning in young children and to increase kindergarten readiness. Recent studies indicate that even infants can differentiate amounts and quantities. Moreover, by 18 months, children can distinguish between shapes. By preschool, children are able to connect numbers and shapes with corresponding concepts and labels like five and triangle. Aside from basic counting exercises, the majority of early education centers spend little time attempting to teach mathematics to toddlers.

Counting activities have been developed to simultaneously incorporate the three concepts of quantity (e.g.: five apples), the corresponding word (five), and the numerical representation (5). Even traditional games like Chutes and Ladders enhance children’s mathematical ability by teaching the relationship between numbers and quantity. For low-income preschoolers, this head start in math comprehension makes a considerable difference. After one year in a math centered preschool environment, 4 year olds in Nashville and Boston were tested on addition, subtraction, and number recognition and placed in the 76th percentile. Children who did not receive the intervention placed in the 50th percentile. Even after their first year of kindergarten, young children who participated in the program maintained their mathematical advantage by placing in the 71st percentile

20 January 2010

Recession pushing more young children into dire poverty

A recent report from The Brookings Institution estimates that across the country, 5 million additional children will fall into poverty as a result of the current recession. In 2007, Shelby county already had an alarmingly high rate of impoverish children, with an estimated 15 percent of all children ages 0-17 living in dire poverty. In Memphis, that estimation is at 21 percent—1 in every 5 children living in dire poverty (with family incomes less than roughly $10,000 a year).

Children who grow up in poverty lag behind their middle class counterparts in both cognitive and behavioral development. Since the most sensitive period for brain development is before the age of five, it is especially disturbing that nearly a quarter of all pre-school age children in Memphis (23 percent) live in dire poverty. Recent analyses demonstrate that children in families that fall below the poverty line during a recession are less likely to graduate from high school or go on to college than children in families that remained above the poverty line. While some observers see the rise in benefit applications as a signal that our social safety net is working, others see it as a sign of a worsening situation. As the labor market changes and job growth remains stagnant, a true estimate of the economic effect of the current recession on children is yet to be seen.

The jobless rate in the state of Tennessee has almost doubled in the last year, rising from 6.4 to 11 percent. By July 2009, unemployment in Memphis had reached 11.6 percent, higher than state and national averages, meaning that more and more children in our community are living in financially strained households. Across the country, 10.5 million children are estimated to have at least one unemployed parent; that is one out of every seven children in the United States. Children of unemployed parents are more likely to experience increased levels of toxic stress associated with homelessness, domestic abuse, and poverty.

07 January 2010

An increasing number of schoolchildren in the South are poor and minority

A report released today by the Southern Education Foundation notes that the South has become the first region of the country where more than half of public school children are poor and more than half are members of ethnic minority groups.

According to the report, the shift was fueled by influx of Latinos and the return of Blacks to the South in recent years. These trends have exacerbated the demographic shifts which began with the flight of White families to the suburbs during the 1970s and 1980s.

As communities across the South struggle to grow productive, highly educated work forces, they face daunting challenges given the lower achievement rates among poor and minority students, who - too often - reach school at a social, emotional and cognitive disadvantage. By 36 months of age, a child from an impoverished family may have a vocabulary a third the size of a child from a professional family. This inequality tracks with children as they progress through school, and low income children are much more likely to be held back a grade, and to drop out.

According to Michael Rebell, executive director of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University, the implications of this trend are enormous: "When we realize that the majority of graduates of our schools are going to come from backgrounds with educational deprivation, it makes it imperative that schools be improved." It also becomes imperative to understand that deprivation begins long before children reach the school house doors.

These trends are well-recognized in Memphis, the largest school district in the state of Tennessee, and 21st largest district in the country. More than 80 percent of students in Memphis City Schools are low-income and a similar percentage of students are ethnic minorities.

06 January 2010

Help Prevent Child Abuse

The Memphis CAC (in collaboration with You Have The Power) is providing a free workshop designed to empower ministers, congregational leaders, youth workers, and lay leaders to prevent and respond to child sexual abuse. The event will be held January 11, 2010 from 6:30-8:30 pm at Kingsbury Christian Church (7887 Poplar Avenue, Germantown, TN 38138). The program meets the requirements DHS sets forth for personal safety training and certificates of attendance will be available. To register, contact Su Hartline at 901-888-4337 or shartline@MemphisCAC.org.

How Does Maltreatment Affect Early Childhood Development?

Many abused children develop issues that impair their social, emotional and physical development- these issues manifest early in life and can continue throughout the lifetime. Hostility, elevated sexualization, and other delinquent behaviors commonly observed in maltreatment victims, combined with diminished concentration, lead to higher school dropout and retention levels for abused children when compared to nonabused children. When children experience sexual maltreatment, they are more likely to have an elevated number of sexual relationships and, accordingly, an increased likelihood of contracting a sexually transmitted disease or becoming pregnant unintentionally. Notably, the rate of teen pregnancy among sexually abused girls is approximately 4 times higher than non-abused girls (Putnam, 2006).

Fast facts (Zero To Three, 2009):

- Children from birth to 36 months of age are consistently the age group most likely to be victims of maltreatment. Infants and toddlers account for almost 30 percent of child abuse and neglect victims.

- Infants (under 12 months of age) are at greatest risk of maltreatment.

- The maltreatment rate for 2002 was 12.3 per 1,000 children (USDHHS, 2004). However, child welfare researchers suggest that actual incidences are much higher than recorded. A primary reason for this is that some less easily identifiable and sensitive cases of maltreatment, such as sexual abuse, are underreported.

Local Resources Designed To Prevent Maltreatment and Assist Victims

Child maltreatment prevention and intervention can help to decrease rates of abuse and neglect. Additionally, these programs are cost-effective, saving a minimum of three dollars for every dollar dedicated to program operations (Karoly et al., 1998).

The Memphis community is fortunate to have a city-based agency dedicated to providing for children who are victims of maltreatment. The mission of the Memphis Child Advocacy Center (CAC) is to serve children who are victims of sexual abuse and severe physical abuse through prevention, education and intervention. The Memphis CAC vision is a community where children are safe, families are strong, and victims become children again.

For more information on the well-being of children in Memphis and Shelby County, please visit The Urban Child Institute at http://www.theurbanchildinstitute.org/Home.


Karoly, L., Greenwood, P., Everingham, S., Houe, J., Kilburn, M., & Rydell, C. (1998). Investing in our children: What we know and don’t know about the costs and benefits of early childhood
Interventions. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.

Putnam, F.W. (2006). The impact of trauma on child development. Juvenile and Family Court Journal, 57, (1), 1-12.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children, Youth, and Families. Child maltreatment 2004. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Zero To Three. (2009). Facts about abuse and neglect of infants and toddlers. Washington, DC: Zero To Three.