Our Vision for Tomorrow Depends on Today's Children!

Our community has its problems, but lack of vision is not one of them. Organizations throughout Memphis and Shelby County have identified clear and ambitious goals to improve our city’s economy, livability, and attractiveness to investors.

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The Workforce Investment Network, for example, is an agency dedicated to improving job opportunities and creating a highly skilled workforce in Memphis, Shelby County, and Fayette County.

The Greater Memphis Chamber, a coalition of business and professional leaders, is determined to create a larger middle-class.

A primary goal of Leadership Memphis, a network of community stakeholders, is to increase college attainment in our city.

Shelby County Schools has adopted goals that would transform public education in our community.

Mayor Wharton and city leaders have identified the need to improve neighborhood economic vitality and reduce neighborhood violence and crime.

Early childhood is the key to community development.

It’s easy to see how these diverse goals are connected. Clearly, education, crime, employment, and income are interrelated. But they share another link: each of them will require an increased focus on early childhood wellbeing.
The foundation for later success is built in early infancy, and is strengthened by positive experiences in early childhood.

Why? Because an incredible amount of brain development happens in the first three years of life. During this time, a baby’s brain is making connections at a faster rate than any other time.

This means that early experiences are especially important. Sensitive, responsive parenting and high quality childcare can promote social and emotional development. A stressful or chaotic home environment, on the other hand, can have long-term negative effects on behavior and achievement.

To build a sustainable workforce, improve our schools, and reduce crime, we must increase access to high quality early childhood experiences.

Too many of our children are at risk.

Unfortunately, many children in our community are at risk of not developing to their full potential. Some risk factors are present in the first stages of life. Rates of premature birth and low birth weight in our community are consistently higher than national rates.

Other risks are related to a child’s home environment. Parents who are single, who do not have a high school diploma, or who are affected by stress or depression may struggle to provide their children with enriching experiences. This places their children at risk for early deficits in social and emotional development, which often translate into academic and behavioral problems down the road.

Still another category of risks involve early experiences outside the home. Living in a dangerous neighborhood contributes to parental stress and can interfere with positive parenting. Many children spend a large portion of their time in low-quality child care programs that do not adequately address their social and emotional development.

Poverty, of course, is a risk factor that is particularly widespread in our community. The stress associated with poverty makes effective parenting difficult. Research consistently shows that childhood poverty is associated with negative outcomes, and that poverty’s effects are greatest in the first few years of life.

There are many organizations working hard to give our community a better future. But to truly succeed, we need to support our children’s wellbeing by investing in the very first years of life.

Investing in children’s earliest years prepares them for a successful future. It also benefits our community’s future by building an efficient workforce, fostering a strong economy, improving our schools, and reducing crime.

Research indicates that focused, evidence-based interventions that are introduced in the first years of life provide the largest returns on investment. We must make early childhood wellbeing a higher priority and make smarter investments in our children.

Throughout June and July, we’ll take a closer look at the crucial role of early childhood wellbeing in strategies for community improvement.