Early Social and Emotional Development: The Key to a Better Future for Memphis and Shelby County

Many exciting changes are contributing to the health and growth of Memphis. Businesses are increasing, arts are becoming more prevalent, neighborhoods are being revitalized, and a certain sports team is thriving—all of which are contributing to more pride among Memphians, and are even garnering attention on the national level.

At the same time, Memphis still deals with some pervasive problems—crime, violence, poor education, and poverty—that will continue to negatively affect the city if not addressed. There is one place where we can look to start to tackle them: the beginning. Studies have shown that social and emotional development in the first three years of children’s lives can have long-lasting and far-reaching effects.

$1 invested in early learning programs for low-income kids yields $4-$9 back! Tweet this!

Early experience have lifelong implications.

The rapid pace of development during this period means that both positive and negative experiences have the potential to make a life-long imprint. A 2004 study showed that children who experience 6-7 risk factors in the first three years, such as poverty, maltreatment, single parents, and low maternal education, are 90-100% more likely to experience delays in their cognitive, language, or emotional development.

An influential study found dramatic differences in the kinds of language heard by poor children, working class children and higher income children. A child from a high-income family will experience 30 million more words within the first three years of life than a child from a poor family.

An adult’s physical health can also be traced to early childhood experiences. Research shows that children who have 7-8 adverse experiences are three times more likely to have cardiovascular disease later in life.

Investments in early childhood should be a higher priority.

As jarring as outcomes like these are, investing in early childhood intervention can go a long way in helping to prevent them. While some may be concerned that investing in these quality childcare programs will cost too much, the reality is that we can’t afford not to—three long-term studies have shown that for every dollar invested in early learning programs for low-income children, between $4-$9 will be returned.

The social and emotional benefits that children gain from such programs create spillover benefits for the entire community. Not only did the children from these programs earn more money later in life, which means increased tax revenue, but less taxpayer money had to be spent on special education, public assistance, and the criminal justice system. Furthermore, children with a quality start will do better academically and be better adjusted socially and emotionally, ultimately leading to a more skilled and competitive workforce.

Still more benefits of early intervention result from reduced health risks. By minimizing negative experiences early on, less money will be spent on public health care and mortality rates will decrease.

Memphis has a lot going for it, and seems to be changing for the better every day. But if we’re going to get serious about addressing some of the major problems that continue to hold us back, we’re going to have to start at the beginning with children’s social and emotional development — early childhood intervention benefits everyone.