18 May 2009

Home and family: A child's first and most important school.

Between birth and three years of age, a child’s brain undergoes profound physical changes and grows dramatically in size, laying the foundation for that child’s later successes in school and life. Consistent with our mission to foster optimal brain development, we need to pay careful attention to the homes and neighborhoods in which our youngest children are growing up. To thrive, young children need a secure and inspiring home environment, where they are surrounded by opportunities for exploration that build on their natural curiosity, and that support the development of their imagination, ambition and problem-solving skills. Children living in over-crowded and unsafe housing — and where parents are struggling to get by and pay the rent, buy food and heat the home — too often lack these opportunities and start life at a disadvantage.

Fast Facts (Annie E. Casey Foundation):

- Almost one in five Memphis children live in crowded housing, which is defined as a housing unit in which there is more than one person per room. Young children who reside in crowded housing may have poorer cognitive and physical development and be more apprehensive, socially withdrawn, tense or aggressive (Evans, 2006).

- Almost 70% of Memphis children live in low-income households where housing costs exceed 30 percent of the household income. High housing costs relative to income can pressure parents to choose between eating and seeking medical care for their babies or toddlers. Children who live in areas with higher rates of unaffordable housing tend to have worse health, more behavioral issues and lower educational performance (Harkness & Newman, 2005).

Very young children spend over two-thirds of their time in the home environment and are particularly vulnerable to household hazards. Policies targeting affordable housing can improve the overall health and well-being of the children and families in our community and support maximum brain development in our youngest citizens.

Policy Strategies (Pollack et. al, 2008):

- Educate and accredit housing suppliers, owners and renters through social movements and programs of the hazards of dangerous and harmful housing and about their rights and obligations.

- Heighten resources and extend the role of public health departments in housing education, supervision and administration.

- Look into private enterprises- such as Habitat for Humanity- to create more affordable, healthy housing units.

For more information on the well-being of children in Memphis and Shelby County, please visit The Urban Child Institute and The State of Children in Memphis and Shelby County: Data Book.


The Annie E. Casey Foundation, KIDS COUNT Data Center, www.kidscount.org.

Evans GW. "Child Development and the Physical Environment." Annu Rev Psychol, 57: 423-51, 2006.

Harkness J and Newman S. "Housing Affordability and Children's Well-Being: Evidence from the National Survey of America's

Families." Housing Policy Debate, 16: 223-55, 2005.

Pollack, C., Egerter, S., Tabashir, S., Dekker, M., & Braveman, P. (2008). Where we live matters for our health: The links between housing and health. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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