Facts for Living: Raising America

By Rebecca McFarland, Frontier Extension Agent

080714-facts-for-living1One out of four children five years old and younger live in poverty in Kansas (Kids Count Data Book); $3 billion is paid by businesses annually due to employee absenteeism as a result of child care breakdowns (Child Care Aware of America); and despite being one of the richest nations in the world, the U.S. is 26th in overall child well-being (UNICEF). These are startling statistics, but they describe the state of the youngest members of our society, across the country, in Kansas and across the counties in the Frontier Extension District (Anderson, Franklin and Osage counties).

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to attend a free preview of the PBS Documentary signature episode, “The Raising of America: Early Childhood and the Future of our Nation”. The episode shows the result of the growing stress on many young families and caregivers – the squeeze for time, money and resources – and the effects on their infants and young children, literally altering the wiring of their developing brains with potential life-long consequences for their physical, intellectual and socio-emotional health and development. The documentary takes us inside the brain and brings to life recent scientific research that shows how early experiences, beginning in the womb, can alter brain architecture and developmental trajectories. Through the stories of families from different walks of life (middle-class, single-parent, etc.), we learn how the lack of paid parental leave and high-quality affordable childcare, stagnant wages, overcrowded housing, depression, social exclusion and perhaps most of all the time crunch (work/life balance/imbalance), often undermine the efforts of parents and caregivers struggling to provide the nurturing environments all children need to thrive.

If we aspire to a healthier, safer, better educated, more prosperous and equitable nation, we must invest in all of our infants and young children now. As a society, we are always looking for solutions to issues such as chronic health and mental health conditions, poverty, violence and academic achievement. Instead of focusing on intervention and the end outcomes, we need to start focusing on the beginning by investing in young children and families. In fact, there is a 10 percent return for every dollar invested in early childhood annually for the life of a child (The Heckman Equation).

There are four 30-minute supporting episodes of “The Raising of America”: “Are We Crazy About Our Kids: The Cost/Benefit Equation”, “DNA Is Not Destiny? How the Outside Gets Under the Skin”, “Once Upon a Time: When Childcare for All Wasn’t Just a Fairytale”, and “Wounded Places: Confronting Childhood PTSD in America’s Shell-Shocked Cities”.

If you are interested in viewing these episodes or are passionate about early childhood development and supporting the efforts of agencies and organizations that support children and families, please contact me. I would love to visit with you about how you can support and advocate for the youngest members of our society, our future.

McFarland_RebeccaRebecca McFarland is the Frontier Extension District family and child development agent. For more information, she can be contacted at the Extension district’s Ottawa office, 1418 S. Main, Suite 2, Ottawa, KS 66067, or call 785-229-3520, or email [email protected].

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