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Minding Our Future: Investing in Healthy Infants and Toddlers (DMC Issue Guide)

Minding Our Future: Investing in Healthy Infants and Toddlers is an issue guide created by the David Mathews Center for Civic Life for our Alabama Issues Forums 2014 – 2015 series. The issue guide provides a brief overview on the importance of early childhood development, outlininDMC_MindingFutureg three approaches towards investing in healthy infants and toddlers across the state of Alabama. The David Mathews Center—a non-profit, non-partisan organization—does not advocate a particular solution to this issue, but rather seeks to provide a framework for Alabamians to thoughtfully examine multiple approaches, weigh costs and consequences, and work through tensions and tradeoffs among different courses of action.

The issue guide’s introductory essay, authored by Dr. Ellen Abell, Associate Professor and Cooperative Extension Specialist at Auburn University, highlights the importance of healthy infant and toddler development:

“Research tells us that the structure of babies’ brains is built in the first three years. During this time, the brain creates 700 neural connections each second, a rate faster than at any other time of life. These simple, beginning connections develop into stronger, more complex connections if babies are exposed to a variety of experiences appropriate for their stages of development… [E]arly adverse experiences lead to poorer learning outcomes, reduced immune system function, and a decreased ability to manage basic levels of stress… Differences in early childhood experiences contribute greatly to the growing gaps in children’s learning and achievement.”

The issue guide outlines three possible approaches to addressing the issue:

Approach One: “Develop Capable and Caring Parents, Guardians, and Caregivers”
During their first three years of life, children are completely dependent on parents, guardians, and caregivers. We must ensure that infants and toddlers receive the support that they need during these important years. Although programs and services aimed at helping children and improving community are important, we need to focus additional time and energy on strengthening the capabilities of the individuals who are responsible for raising and caring for young children… We also must prepare future parents and guardians for their upcoming responsibilities.

Approach Two: “Create Healthy and Thriving Communities”
Communities directly impact infants and toddlers. If we want to “mind our future,” then we must work to foster safe and healthy communities that support young children and their families. Parents and guardians may want to provide children with everything that they need, but unsupportive neighborhoods and workplaces that increase stress may reduce their abilities to do so. We must create additional family resource centers, encourage workplace policies that embrace families, and organize community events that focus on young children and parents.

Approach Three: “Provide Access to Comprehensive High Quality Services for All Children”
If we want to provide children with a strong foundation during their first three years of life, then we must offer wide access to necessary support services. Alabamians must make genuine commitments to invest in education, healthcare, and nutrition for all infants and toddlers; otherwise, growing children may face challenges that will impact them for the rest of their lives. Parents, guardians, caregivers, and community groups cannot provide everything that children need during their first three years – some services and support must be provided by institutions and agencies. Also, access to and use of existing services may be limited due to lack of awareness and understanding.

About DMC and the Issue Guides
The David Mathews Center—a non-profit, non-partisan organization—authors deliberative frameworks for people to carefully examine multiple approaches, weigh costs and consequences, and work through tensions and tradeoffs among different courses of action to current and historic issues of public concern.

David Mathews Center issue guides are named and framed by Alabamians for Alabama Issues Forums (AIF) during a biennial “Citizens’ Congress” and follow-up workshops. Alabama Issues Forums is a David Mathews Center signature program designed to bring Alabamians together to deliberate and take community action on an issue of public concern. Digital copies of all AIF issue guides, and accompanying post-forum questionnaires, are available for free download at http://mathewscenter.org/resources/ For further information about the Mathews Center, Alabama Issues Forums, or this publication, please visit http://mathewscenter.org/

Follow DMC on Twitter: @DMCforCivicLife

Resource Link: http://mathewscenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Minding-Our-Future-singlepages.pdf

This resource was submitted by Cristin Foster, the Executive Director at David Mathews Center for Civic Life, via the Add-a-Resource form.

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