30 October 2009

Revised WIC Guidelines Provide Incentives To Breastfeeding Families

As of October 1, the federally-funded Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) has altered subsidy provisions in order to provide improved nutritional support to low-income families. In addition to including more food items that will reduce the amount of saturated fats and increase healthy fiber in the intake of WIC participants, the revised food packages better encourage and endorse sustained breastfeeding and reinforce WIC’s breastfeeding promotion endeavors.

The adjusted nutritional package provides mothers who solely breastfeed with the opportunity to receive more choices and increased quantities of approved foods, including a monthly $10.00 voucher which can be redeemed for fresh fruits and vegetables. Babies who are solely breastfeed receive increased quantities and a more mixed selection of baby food at 6 months of age. Breastfeeding mothers can also receive breast pumps and other breastfeeding aids to help support the initiation and continuation of breastfeeding.

Although WIC promotes breastfeeding as the preferred method for feeding infants, WIC has historically faced numerous challenges in increasing the prevalence of breastfeeding among participants. Through nutrition knowledge and breastfeeding promotion efforts, WIC employees encourage and support mothers in the breastfeeding process; however, the time that staff has to counsel and educate pregnant women on breastfeeding is restricted. Furthermore, a mother’s choice to breastfeed may be determined by other variables beyond the WIC staff’s control, such as opinions of partners and friends, her doctor, and community acceptance.

Although more research is needed to determine the most effective breastfeeding promotion and support measures needed to increase breastfeeding among WIC participants, we applaud the efforts of the WIC system in altering food packages in order to provide incentives to breastfeeding mothers. By recognizing and supporting the breastfeeding guidelines suggested by the American Academy of Pediatrics[1] (AAP), the WIC program is making positive progress in achieving optimal infant and child health, growth and development in vulnerable, low-income families.

WIC is a federal program designed to provide supplemental food to low-income pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding women, infants and children until the age of five. For more information on the Tennessee WIC program, please call the Shelby County Health Department at 901.544.7583.

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

References

Oliveira, V. (2003, July). WIC and breastfeeding rates: Food assistance research brief. United States Department of Agriculture (Report Number 34-2).

Tennessee WIC brings more to the table. (2009, October 19). Tennessee Department of Health. The Daily Times.


[1] The AAP recommends exclusive breastfeeding for approximately the first 6 months after birth, continuous breastfeeding for 12 months after birth, and thereafter as long as mutually desired.

27 October 2009

Recession’s Toll On Very Young Children: How Can Parents Promote Optimal Development During Times of Financial Strain?

Counselors, educational analysts and school therapists report seeing an increasing number of children dealing with strain and pressure as a result of their parents’ recession-related monetary issues. A perception of disaster can create profound unhappiness or worry, particularly if families unleash their distress or exasperation, argue about finances, or change housing arrangements and/or school districts (Brody, 2009).

Three out of four parents state that the economic downturn has increased tension in their household, and a third report that their children have demonstrated apprehension or agitation about the economy, according to a current U.S. study by Wakefield Research. Approximately twenty percent of children will develop a mental health issue at some point during the lifespan, and financial hardship could provoke a concealed anxiety issue.

“We’re living in very difficult times,” said Rosalind Dorlen, the American Psychological Association’s New Jersey public education coordinator. “It would be na├»ve to assume kids going through this would be unaffected. Is this going to be the ‘Worried Generation’?”

Experts at the Carsey Institute suggest that children of all ages experience the ramifications of financial distress, but our youngest citizens are particularly susceptible. For children less than age six, the demands of economic deficiency include insufficient health, decreased access to high-quality educational programs, inferior cognitive and social and emotional development, and heightened parental pressure. Evidence also suggests that financial hardship is linked with a lower quality home setting and inadequate parenting methods (Poiter, 2009).

How can parents assist and help prevent the development of unneeded stress and anxiety in their youngest family members? According to Jane Burdsall of the New Jersey Association of School Psychologists, a primary step is to remember to speak calmly and without frustration to all members of the household. Young children need to feel secure, and it is crucial that parents’ remember children’s ages and developmental stages when sharing and discussing economic information. Although young children are resilient, it is important for parents to reassure infants and toddlers in order decrease tension levels and promote a secure environment.

What else can parents to do encourage optimal cognitive, social and emotional development in our youngest children during this tough economic time? We welcome your thoughts, comments, and suggestions.

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.

References

Brody, L. (2009, October 13). Recession’s toll on children: Parents aren’t the only only ones who
suffer when jobs are lost and money is tight. McClatchy/Tribune News.

Poiter, B. (2009, September 30). Recession’s impact on young child poverty uneven throughout
nation. UNH Campus Journal.

08 October 2009

Increasing Political Will for Investment in Early Childhood Development Programs

Nationwide public opinion polling conducted in the last year and a half on behalf of the Partnership for America’s Economic Success, and in conjunction with Professor James Heckman, offers important findings about what the public, policy influentials, and policymakers understand about the importance of investing in early childhood interventions in order to support the optimal cognitive, social, emotional and physical development of children (ROI Ventures and Neimand Collaborative, 2009, October).

Here are some of their findings:

- On a scale of 1 to 100, policymakers are 75% of the way towards being ready to make large investments in early childhood education and services.

- Policymakers understand the long range benefits that will accrue for children and society if we make strategic investments in early childhood, but they are hesitant to make large new investments in services without a clear mandate from policy influentials and the public.

- On the other hand, early childhood investment has a relatively low amount of salience for the general public as a political issue. The public is significantly more interested in seeing public investment to solve problems with the economy, health care and crime.

- The public and influentials are about 25% of the way towards being willing to support large public investments in early childhood services.

- There is wide-ranging support for the notion that children need access to high quality early care, education and support services; however, there is widespread disagreement about who should pay for those services.

- Roughly 50% of the public is willing to pay higher taxes in order to provide expanded services to children between birth and five; the other half is unwilling to do so.

Many of the strategies that have been pursued by advocates of early childhood investment have failed to convince the public of the value of investing in early childhood. Frequently, advocates have suggested that the non-poor should invest in high quality early services for the poor in order to close the academic achievement gap or create more equal outcomes between non-poor and poor children. However, since many members of the public are currently struggling to provide services for their own children, they are not persuaded that they should pay to provide services for poor children as well.

Many advocates have also spent a lot of time focusing on the negative outcomes associated with not establishing healthy foundational social and emotional skills instead of emphasizing that the time from birth to five is a window of opportunity to maximize development. Messages about “use it or lose it” brain development, which suggest that children who do not experience optimal development are doomed to lives of failure are not convincing to the public since they are skeptical that a child’s life outcomes could be “determined” before they are even in kindergarten.

Research on effective framing demonstrates that the public will support investments in early brain development only if they understand that providing services to support early brain development will help fix societal problems such as the current economic crisis, crime and health problems. In other words, we can fundamentally shift public will towards investment in birth to five services if we can help people understand how they and society at large will benefit in the long run from those investments.

Sources

Barnett, W.S. (1996). Lives in the Balance: Age-27 Benefit-Cost Analysis of the High/Scope Perry Preschool Program. Monographs of the HighScope Educational Research Foundation, 11. Ypsilanti, Mich.: High/Scope Press.

National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. (2004). Young Children Develop in an Environment of Relationships. Working Paper No. 1. Retrieved [August 21, 2009] from www.developingchild.net/pubs/wp/environment_of_relationships.pdf

ROI Ventures and Neimand Collaborative. (2009, October). The Heckman Equation: Talking Dollars and Sense about Investing in Early Childhood Development. Washington D.C.: Partnership for America’s Economic Success. [Accessed October 5, 2009] http://www.partnershipforsuccess.org/uploads/20091007_100709HeckmanPPTDRAFT.ppt

Ramey, C.T. & Ramey, S.L. (2004, October). Early Learning and School Readiness: Can Intervention Make a Difference? Merrill Palmer Quarterly, 50, 4, 471-491.

07 October 2009

High-Quality Infant/Toddler Care: What Should Parents Look For?

The evidence keeps pouring in: the first years of life are a critical period of brain development, and a baby’s first care-givers can help to encourage – or impede – optimal social, emotional and cognitive growth.

In Shelby County and across the nation, the majority of young children will spend a significant amount of time every week-day in the care of non-family members while their parents are at work. And when it comes to their children, most parents want the same thing- They want their infant or toddler to have access to a high-quality early education setting. Parents spend a great deal of energy and time researching and trying to find an available slot in a high-quality, affordable child development center or family provider.

How can parents know when they have found the right child care setting? What are the markers of a superior infant or toddler classroom? The following list is comprised of some of the indicators that can confirm for parents that developmentally correct practices are being used in their child’s early education setting.

Continuity Of Teachers and Children In The Classroom. Known faces are critical to high-quality care for very young children. Continuity provides regularity and security- this eases children’s adaption to new environments and makes the departure and reunion process easier for both kids and parents.

Involvement Between Children and Staff Members. One of the most crucial elements of superb early education for infants and toddlers is the interactive setting- parents need to observe teachers actively engaging with children. Staff members should react swiftly to requests, comment on what children are doing and seeing, and check in often to see if assistance is needed.

Variations In Pace Throughout The Day. Because young children enrolled in early education can spend the majority of their week at the child care location, pace changes are essential, both for the children and the staff. Parents should look for evidence that infants and toddlers get opportunities to play outside and in the gym, to sing and respond to music, and to experience variations in the learning setting. Parents need to see the pace in the classroom elevate and become lively and brisk during some parts of the day, and then ease off to become cozy and softening during others.

Parents As A Fundamental Component Of The Early Education Setting. The knowledge that parents are a child’s primary and most important educators is the foundation for a positive parent-staff relationship. When families are incorporated as a principal component of a young child’s early school experience, the teachers, parents and children all prosper and flourish.

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

References

Albrecht, K., & Miller, L. G. (2007). Quality for infants and toddlers: A view from the door. Early Childhood News- Excelligence Learning Corporation.

06 October 2009

Just When Does the Achievement Gap Start?

Research on early brain development suggests that the human brain is partially completed in utero and continues to develop long after birth. Although infants are born with all the neurons they will ever have, the connections between neurons, or synapses, have not been established at birth. Most synapses are formed in the first 3 years of life. However, synaptic pruning continues into the teenage years. Brain synapses connect and are pruned in response to external stimuli. This means that the brain develops in response to children’s relationships and their environment. This is important because the accuracy and effectiveness of synaptic connections will determine how effectively the brain will function as children grow to adulthood (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2004).

A child’s ability to develop effective cognitive, social and emotional skills in early childhood is dependent on the accuracy and effectiveness of their synaptic formation. Early brain development is crucially linked to later development because it provides the foundation upon which all of the more complex skills and abilities will be built (Thompson, 2001, Spring/Summer; Cunha & Heckman, 2007, May).

Children growing up in diverse economic and family circumstances do not have equal access to the relationships and environments that will support their early brain and mind development. This is critical because it means that their foundational skills, which will enable them to develop more intricate traits and abilities as they grow, are fundamentally different.

Ramey & Ramey (2004) discuss differences in the early childhood experiences of different groups of children in order to determine when it is possible to see a gap opening in the cognitive abilities of disadvantaged children and their more advantaged peers. Their research, conducted over the last 30 years on participants in the original Carolina Abecedarian Project and subsequent cohorts of participants, has established that poor children and their more advantaged peers have demonstrable differences in their cognitive abilities beginning at 18 months of age.

At 18 months, disadvantaged children scored an average of 18 points lower than their more advantaged peers on the Mental Development Index of the Bayley Scales of Infant Development. Disturbingly, without intervention, this gap persisted and grew as the children in the study progressed to kindergarten. By the time they reached the kindergarten classroom, more advantaged children were an average of 2.5 years ahead of their disadvantaged peers developmentally (Ramey & Ramey, 2004, October). Multiple other studies that have tracked cohorts of young children have demonstrated the same early achievement gaps between poor and non-poor children and their persistence as children grow up (National Center for Education Statistics, 2007, Table 110; National Center for Education Statistics, 2007, Table 111; Barnett, 1996)

However, there is good news. Children who get access to high quality early childhood programs, like the Abecedarian Project, end up doing about as well as their more advantaged peers in early childhood. The Abecedarian Program provided disadvantaged children with high quality, full time child care from 6 weeks to 3 years of age, regular home visiting to help provide support and information for parents, access to economic supports like free diapers, free food and free transportation, full year pre-kindergarten from 3 years old till school entry. The gains that children in the program made, versus their peers who were not enrolled, persisted as the children grew into adulthood.

Sources

Barnett, W.S. (1996). Lives in the Balance: Age-27 Benefit-Cost Analysis of the High/Scope Perry Preschool Program. Monographs of the HighScope Educational Research Foundation, 11. Ypsilanti, Mich.: High/Scope Press.

Cunha, F. & Heckman, J.J. (2007, May). The Technology of Skill Formation. American Economic Review, 97, 2, 31-47.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2007). Table 110. Mean reading scale scores and specific reading skills for fall 1998 first time kindergarteners, by time of assessment and selected characteristics: Selected years, fall 1998 through spring 2004. Digest of Education Statistics. [Accessed September 2009] http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d07/tables/dt07_110.asp

National Center for Education Statistics. (2007). Table 111. Mean mathematics and science scale scores and specific mathematics skills of fall 1998 first-time kindergartners, by time of assessment and selected characteristics: Selected years, fall 1998 through spring 2004. Digest of Education Statistics. [Accessed September 2009] http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d07/tables/dt07_111.asp

National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. (2004). Young Children Develop in an Environment of Relationships. Working Paper No. 1. Retrieved [August 21, 2009] from www.developingchild.net/pubs/wp/environment_of_relationships.pdf

Ramey, C.T. & Ramey, S.L. (2004, October). Early Learning and School Readiness: Can Intervention Make a Difference? Merrill Palmer Quarterly, 50, 4, 471-491.

Thompson, R. A. (2001, Spring/Summer). The Growth of the Brain. The Future of Children: Caring for Infants and Toddlers 11, 1. [Accessed September 2009]. http://www.princeton.edu/futureofchildren/publications/journals/article/index.xml?journalid=44&articleid=186&sectionid=1212

02 October 2009

Supporting the Cognitive, Social and Emotional Growth of Young Children By Inviting Parents Into The Classroom

While the central practice of an early education teacher fittingly targets the security and guidance of young children, often too little consideration is paid to the role of family members- both as engaged partners and as part of the regular curriculum- in the early education environment.

Recent research suggests that quality child care doesn’t just benefit kids- it also supports families (See “Child Care Programs Assist Parents In Building Social Capital: Suggestions For Administrators and Faculty”).The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the accreditation body that is recognized as the gold standard in the field of early childhood education, understands the importance of family involvement in the development of young children, and mandates that centers follow explicit family engagement standards in order to maintain their accreditation status. There are many simple ideas that early educators can integrate into their program in order to promote family involvement in the educational setting- both directly and through projects that permit children to think about and discuss their families regularly throughout the school day (Francis, n.d.).

- Ask parents into the facility to display and share hobbies and pastimes, cultural rituals, unique foods, etc. This is not only an great time for a young child to observe and enjoy her own family- it also lets parents know that their exceptional stories are acknowledged and welcomed in the classroom.

- Construct a welcoming, family-focused environment and let parents know that their participation is desirable. Make sure family members know where art supplies, toys and books are kept so that they can engage without restriction.

- Assist children in making a family tree. For infants and toddlers, this may simply be naming people in their households and those special to them. Keep the tree uncomplicated and straightforward and mention it often as a source of communication.

- Choose quality reading materials- there are hundreds of fantastic children’s books that recognize the diversity of modern families. Be perceptive to family variance with any activity you do, but recognize that books provide you with a unique opportunity to mention and encourage all families.

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

References
Francis, K. (n.d.) Inviting family into the classroom. EarlychildhoodNEWS: The Professional Resource For Teachers and Parents.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children. (n.d.) Introduction to NAEYC standards and criteria. Washington, DC: Author.