Early childhood the most important place to invest

Bravo! Nicholas Kristof and his column “Science finds biological basis for cycle of poverty” (Herald, Jan. 10) speaks to the importance – no, the necessity – of investing in early childhood if we want a healthier, happier, smarter society. This isn’t touchy-feely, soft stuff. It’s hard science. New research shows that “toxic stress” on children younger than 2 changes how cells and neural pathways develop, damaging the brain as much as inhaling toxic substances or falling out of a crib. For the first time, stress and adversity in early childhood is being linked to mental and physical health problems later in life: heart disease, obesity, diabetes as well as aggression, depression and anxiety.

In other words, there’s a two-year window in a child’s life that can determine whether he or she eventually develops cardiovascular disease, diabetes, aggressive behavior, depression. After that, the older the child, the more expensive and difficult interventions will be, placing even more burden on already-strained health-care and social-services systems.

Given the mountains of economic and health research on the subject, shouldn’t investing in early childhood be one of our top priorities as a nation? The opposite actually is true. The first two years are the period of a child’s life in which we invest the least, according to budget research by the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute. In Colorado, early-childhood funding accounts for just 5 percent of total spending on children.

Bleak as the overall picture may be, we’re trying to make a difference at the local level. The Early Childhood Council is part of a statewide effort in partnership with local agencies and programs, working to improve the lives of young children and families through ensuring high-quality child care and education, social-emotional programs and health and family support. Want to make a huge difference in someone’s life? Support early childhood. Visit www.ecclaplata.org to learn how you can help a child get off to a healthy, happy start in life.

Angela Atkinson, Early Childhood Council of La Plata County