First 2000 Days campaign supports essential early childhood development
Special to Philanthropy Journal
Brains are built in the early years of life, after a baby is born.
As the only organ not fully developed at birth, brains are literally hardwired during a child’s early years. The years from birth to age 8 are the most rapid period of development in human life, with 90 percent of brain development occurring during this time. Because brains are built from the bottom up, the first eight years set the foundation for all of the years that follow.
Early development is so significant that some unexpected voices are calling for greater support for early childhood investments. Military leaders, business executives and law enforcement call early care education paramount to our national security, our global competitive edge and our safety. They recognize that high quality early experiences are the key to reversing some disturbing trends:
- • 75 percent of Americans ages 17-24 cannot meet the military’s eligibility requirements.
- • Nearly half of the U.S. workforce does not have the basic education and communication skills required to acquire and advance in a job.
- • At-risk children that do not attend high quality pre-kindergarten are five times more likely to become chronic criminal offenders by age 27.
The mitigating benefits of quality early childhood programs are evident in decades of research. High-quality early education yields higher graduation rates, reduced crime, higher earnings and better jobs.
We have seen the impact in North Carolina. Our third graders scored higher on standardized reading and math tests in counties that had higher investments in our early childhood programs, Smart Start and More at Four, when children were younger. And 20 years after our state began investing in early education, the high school graduation rate hit a record high at 82.5 percent.
However, over the past five years, significantly fewer public funds have gone to early childhood programs. For example, Smart Start lost a third of its funding over the past decade.
As a result, North Carolinians are joining their national counterparts in calling for early learning investments. John Ingram, sheriff of Brunswick County, is one of several state law enforcement professionals supporting early care and learning. “I can tell you that high-quality early childcare and education programs are critical strategies for reducing crime, thus lowering corrections costs and saving taxpayers money,” he said.
Yet, in FY 2012–13, the N.C. General Assembly appropriated almost seven times more in state general funds to Division of Corrections than the Division of Child Development.
Responding to a recent report that North Carolina could face a shortage of 46,000 workers in the coming years due to a skills gap, Mike Waite, executive director of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry of the Greater Charlotte Chapter said, “The idea that anyone can just show up at a construction site and learn on the job is a myth. We need workers who can apply mathematic principles and finely honed skills to our projects, and that doesn’t happen overnight. High-quality early learning gives kids a foundation for long-term academic success.”
Business leaders understand that the early childhood experiences of today impact the economy of tomorrow. In the past year, more than 300 have attended early childhood business briefings held around the state, and half committed to take action. They have gone on to educate their employees about quality early care and learning, sign op-eds and give presentations to their colleagues.
The briefings are part of the First 2000 Days campaign, a public education initiative funded by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation and the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina. Recognizing that many social challenges have roots in early childhood, several organizations and businesses feature a link to the First 2000 Days website (www.first2000days.org) on their web pages. Two thousand days refers to the amount of time between when a baby is born and when that child begins kindergarten.
Efforts like this are beginning to pay off. A new bipartisan poll of American voters found that a significant majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents alike support a plan currently being considered by Congress to help states and local communities provide better early childhood education programs to parents of children from birth to age 5, ensuring that all children get a strong start in life. They rated it as a national priority, second only to jobs and the economy and more important than reducing taxes or securing our borders.
Community leaders can continue to build on this support by:
- • Educating your employees on the value of early childhood education with a First 2000 Days presentation.
- • Sharing information about the importance of early child development with a First 2000 Days Web Badge (www.first2000days.org/web-badges).
- • Hosting a forum on the benefits of early childhood investments.
- • Encouraging your colleagues and peers to get involved.
A child’s quality of life and the contributions he or she will make to society can be directly traced to the first few years of life.
Tracy Zimmerman is the director of strategic communications at the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation, a new organization working to create and support an environment that allows diverse organizations and people to come together to produce large-scale change for children birth to age 8. Follow her on Twitter at @tracyzimmerman.