Early investment in childhood learning pays off - Albuquerque Journal

Early investment in childhood learning pays off

Invest now; you’ll reap your rewards later. That doesn’t just apply to financial investments, it holds true for our littlest community members as well.

Investing in early childhood by supporting children and their families today can transform the future of our city one family at a time. The children whose social, emotional, intellectual and physical needs are met in their early years are more likely to grow into healthy, fulfilled and engaged citizens.

With new city government comes new opportunity. The Bernalillo County Early Childhood Accountability Partnership (ECAP) is eager to engage our new city leaders to focus on our children.

We are all too familiar with the serious social problems facing our city today. Those problems impact all of us, but our young children are most vulnerable to the effects of stressful life events. Brain development during the first years of life shapes lifelong outcomes, and the environments in which young children grow, play and learn change how their brains develop. When young children experience a build-up of stress due to problems in their families or communities, they are more likely to face many of the same challenges we see in our neighborhoods today – substance misuse, violence, educational difficulties and incarceration.

Research from Nobel Prize-winning University of Chicago Economist James Heckman, author of the Heckman Equation, shows that high-quality birth-to-five programs for disadvantaged children can deliver a 13 percent per year return on investment. Significant gains are realized through better outcomes in education, health, social behaviors and employment. Similarly, Bernalillo County’s District Attorney Raúl Torrez has said that the community can invest in our youth early, or pay $45,000 per year to incarcerate an adult.

To make a real lasting change for our city, we must commit to investing in ways that increase the return on investment in the short and long term. High-quality early childhood care and learning can change the trajectory for our children, families and city. Learning takes place in relationships with caring adults. When caregivers talk, smile, snuggle, sing, play and read with young children, they provide an ideal environment for early learning, literacy and healthy development. These simple interactions support parent-child bonding and healthy attachment, which are shown to prevent child abuse and neglect.

Families need our help to support their children’s healthy development. High quality family support, early education, and child care are vital to the current and future well-being of our city. No single program will address the complex problems facing our communities or our young children. We must work together to make the changes needed to offer safe, stable, nurturing environments to children and increase opportunities for families to thrive.

Our city government does not need to reinvent the wheel or go at it alone. ECAP is an active collaboration of leaders from many sectors – health, early learning, early intervention, higher education, business, policy, philanthropy, K-12 education, civic groups and faith communities – who have committed to work together to achieve a single measurable result: All Bernalillo County children will be ready for and succeed in school. Since 2010, we have worked together to measurably improve outcomes for young children and their families from pregnancy to age eight. Our partners are committed to data-driven efforts that address the systems that perpetuate inequitable outcomes for young children and their families. Our work builds upon past efforts and consciously aligns its goals with other local and statewide groups. We are in this together.

As we step into a new era of city leadership, we have the responsibility to decide if we are going to invest now, or pay the price later. We invite our new city leaders to leave a legacy of healthy children, healthy families and a healthy Albuquerque. Beginning on Day One, we invite you to join us in this ongoing effort to make our city better by strengthening our families.

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