Off to a Good Start: Helping Our Community's Children Reach Their Potential

The Urban Child Institute has just released its newest report on children in Memphis and Shelby County. Now in its 9th edition, the annual publication has come to be seen as the most authoritative source of local information and data about early childhood development.

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Over the years, we have explored a broad range of issues, including the damaging effects of toxic stress in the lives of our youngest children, the positive impact of nurturing parents, the benefits of breastfeeding, and the impressive returns from investments made in the first three years of life.

We are proud that over the past 10 years, our publication has become the go-to source for child-related information and data and has shaped public conversations about early childhood. Even more importantly, it has provoked a sense of urgency and informed new policies and programs that contribute to the healthy development of our community’s children.

To ensure that its value continues to grow, we have made significant improvements in this year’s edition. For starters, we have changed the report’s name to reflect our overriding goal for our community’s young children. What was formerly called the Data Book: The State of Children in Memphis and Shelby County is now Off to a Good Start: Social and Emotional Development of Memphis’ Children.

The new name reflects a simple truth: nothing matters more to our community’s future than giving every child a strong start in life.

A New Focus: Social and Emotional Development

In order to continue our tradition of spotlighting what’s most important for our children, we have sharpened our focus on social and emotional development. To enrich this report even more, we are partnering with the RAND Corporation, one of the nation’s leading think tanks and one which shares our mission of improving policies and decisionmaking through research and analysis.

Off to a Good Start concentrates on the social and emotional development that is central to children’s school readiness, resilience, and long-term well-being. Social and emotional skills help children engage in positive relationships, understand who they are, and cope with their emotions constructively.

Why this new emphasis? The bottom line is that unless our children have the support and the nurturing environments to thrive, their future – and the future of our community – will not be bright.

The report provides the kind of data that has come to be expected from it, but it also provides context and addresses key questions such as: What makes for children’s best social and emotional development? Why is it crucial for our children now? What can we do to improve the well-being of young children in our community?

A Call to Action

In other words, Off to a Good Start has a new focus, a new look, and a new layout. However, one thing has not changed: our dedication to spreading the word about child development issues, inspiring action and advocacy, and grounding it all in scientific evidence.

Looking back, the years since our first publication have been a time of exciting advances in public awareness of what it takes for children to have their best opportunities for success in school and throughout life. The data presented in these yearly reports have served as a yardstick to indicate our community’s progress.

In the past, our annual reports provided data and statistics that were often cited in public dialogues about strategies and programs for children. Off to a Good Start is different because it is not content to simply inform discussions. Rather, it is a call to action – a call for a widespread, dedicated effort to ensure a bright future for our community by giving its youngest members the strong start they need.