Early Intervention Can Promote Equality

Shelby County has nearly a quarter of a million children. Over 70 percent of these children live in Memphis; the rest live in the outlying suburbs. Many factors associated with child well-being vary widely between Memphis and suburban Shelby County. For example, child poverty is much more widespread in Memphis than in outlying areas of the county.

The availability of opportunities to help children outweighs our willingness to do so! Tweet this!

It is our duty to address these disparities. It’s also in our interest to do so, if we want to create a community where families can raise their children without the toxic stress associated with poverty, crime and violence. Eliminating inequalities in schooling and skills requires starting in early childhood.

Interventions can promote effective parenting.

Parenting is an obvious target for intervention because of its central role in development. Emotionally supportive parenting during infancy and early childhood is associated with school-age outcomes such as better social skills, more self-control, and better relations with peers and teachers. As teens and adults, children with a strong social and emotional foundation have better decision-making skills, and greater social perspective and empathy, and fewer behavior problems.

Numerous studies show the effectiveness of interventions for improving parental responsiveness and sensitivity and enhancing parenting skills. In fact, brief programs appear to be more effective than longer, more expensive ones.

They can also increase knowledge of child development and improve parent-child relationships. At-risk children benefit from programs that teach parents strategies like using explanation and reasoning, avoiding harsh or punitive tactics, and establishing family routines.

Quality child care benefits at-risk children.

The availability of quality child care is important for at-risk families. Parents are able to retain regular employment and provide for their children. Children’s cognitive, social and emotional develop is enriched, making them better prepared for school entry.

Recent research suggests that early care programs can have other benefits as well. For example, they can be a place where parents build social capital by making new friends and increasing their support network. Center staff can often connect parents with outside services as needed.

There is no shortage of proven interventions for children at risk.

Pediatric care providers are in an ideal position to help. They can promote healthy child development by helping parents understand the importance of positive parenting and by screening for maternal depression and anxiety. A recent report by the American Academy of Pediatrics emphasizes the importance of using well-child visits as opportunities for improving parental knowledge and skills.

Promoting parents’ social capital can support children’s long-term emotional and behavioral development. Children do better when they are protected from chaotic and disrupted home lives. Parents are better prepared to be effective teachers and role models when they live in safe neighborhoods where trustworthy adults can trust and help one another.

Workplace policies and community supports influence how well parents are able to balance childrearing duties with workplace demands. Parents should be able to look after their children’s health and education while succeeding and advancing in their jobs.

As a community, the availability of opportunities to help our children currently outweighs our willingness to do so. But there is much that can be done in the meantime.

Join the public discussion and speak out for policies you support. Tell the parents in your circle what you know and what’s at stake. Take any opportunity you can to help make our community a place with homes, neighborhoods and public spaces where kids can grow and thrive. Even when they are playing, laughing and chattering, they are learning. And someday, this city will be theirs.