The buzz in recent years on the importance of early childhood has been roaring. Young children’s brains are producing 1 million new neural connections per second in the first few years of life, and we now understand the bigger picture of why we need to set families up for success from very early-on. Research has shown that investing in quality care and programming at this young age, specifically for our most disadvantaged children, leads to a 13% return on investment annually. Kenosha County residents of all generations, and our economy, would benefit widely from this return. This is the work of our Smart Beginnings Network.
Dr. Diane Gerlach, pediatrician at Aurora Health Care and champion of this work, demonstrates this. “When children are struggling early on, they tend to have behavior problems. This adds stress to the parent who may also be struggling with parenting, and it bleeds over to their [employment] with poor productivity and attendance. Identifying problem areas early allows for early treatment, which decreases their struggles and behavior problems, which decreases parent stress. This creates better current and future employees.” Smart Beginnings brings together community partners to directly address the importance of early childhood through alignment of programs and systems.
This group has launched its collaborative action approach by aligning with childcare centers and equipping them with the Ages & Stages Questionnaire (ASQ-3), a developmental screening tool. Childcare centers get trained to educate parents and caregivers about developmental milestones and provide them with activities to help their child thrive. Parents are a child’s first and most important teacher, so when parents understand the importance of reading, talking, and playing with their child, it can result in significant gains in developmental outcomes. Regular screenings can also ensure that families receive needed interventions early. When parents are supported, they can be more present and productive employees, residents, and leaders in our community. Businesses and our overall economy are then poised to profit.
We are already seeing small wins with this alignment. The number of reported ASQ-3s in Kenosha County has doubled over this time last year, resulting in more children receiving necessary interventions earlier. Suzi Wolf, Early Intervention Program Manager at KAC, shares, “Providing services before a child is school age is more effective and less costly because the developing brain is the most capable of change.” Is this an investment we can afford not to make?
How You Can Help
The success of this work depends on stakeholders of all shapes and sizes. Consider: