2012: Year in Review

History teaches us that there are significant events that are pivotal in shaping our future.

In 2012, we believe the seeds were planted here in Memphis that have the power to shape the coming years for our community. It is the year that our message about brain development in early childhood gathered important momentum, took on a sense of urgency, and assumed its place as one of our top priorities in this community.

It's a tradition to assess the last year as the new year unfolds, so in that spirit, we revisit some of our highlights of 2012.

We began the year with two presentations that created ripples through our community. Robin Karr-Morse, author of Scared Sick: The Role of Childhood Trauma in Adult Disease, spoke in February and we followed her a month later with University of British Columbia professors, Dr. Daniel Goldowitz and Dr. Clyde Hertzman as well as Dr. Michael Meaney of McGill University. Their consensus: early experiences in life like abuse, overly harsh discipline, family strife, and emotional neglect have strong ramifications later in adult life through depression, drug abuse, anxiety, diabetes, health disease, and obesity.

Toxic stress was called the "elephant in the room" by Ms. Karr-Morse, who urged Memphis to become a national leader of these issues, because the high stress of poverty means tens of thousands of children need the nurturing and supportive environment that sets their lives on the right course for the future.

Our mayors proved that they had been listening and that they understood. And then they acted on what they had heard. Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell met with The Urban Child Institute to learn more about the science of brain development as he led the work of the Transition Planning Commission for the new unified school district in Shelby County. In its final report, the Commission echoed our call for broader kindergarten readiness programs. Meanwhile, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton used his State of the City address to announce the creation of a special committee to evaluate the best strategies for early childhood development for the City of Memphis, and he also authored one of the many commentaries in The Commercial Appeal about brain development, focusing on epigenetics and the toxic stress of poverty.

Also, the growing understanding of the importance of early childhood development led to it becoming a topic at City Council, coverage in the media, and conversations at meetings of numerous groups. Through online distribution of Perceptions and Research to Policy as well as publication of editorials, ads, and features in The Commercial Appeal, Memphis Daily News, Memphis Flyer, Tri-State Defender, Parent magazine and Jabber Blabber, we continued to spotlight new information and offer advice about brain development.

We stood foursquare in favor of mother's milk as the "gift that keeps on giving" and underscored the overwhelming benefits – in terms of both nutrition and nurturing - to mothers and children that result from breastfeeding. We focused on the importance of fathers in child rearing and offered a check list of questions for every father to ask to determine if he is doing his best as a positive influence in his child's first three years of life.

No year here is complete without the publication of our annual Data Book, and the 2012 edition was as usual chock full of data that matters to anyone who cares about our youngest children and our community. In addition, we also published "A New Parents' Guide" that lays out what parents and caretakers can do for each of the first three years in children's lives to ensure their healthy development and readiness for kindergarten entry. It even recommends "10 things every child in Memphis should experience before they reach kindergarten."

The culmination of all this activity was the launch of our Baby Small campaign and the completion of our Touch Talk Read Play train-the-trainer pilot training and evaluation. Both are aimed at increasing understanding about how critical brain development is to babies and toddlers and at arming those of you who have supported and advocated this message. The Baby Small campaign provides you with a three-minute, easy-to-understand presentation that you can share with people in your neighborhood, in your place of worship, and in your circle of influence. And the Touch Talk Read Play training provides you with information and materials to share with new mothers and other caregivers such as child care providers about the importance of brain stimulation through Touch Talk Read and Play in the early years of a child's life.

Back in May, we said that Memphis appears to be at a tipping point when it comes to early childhood development. We think that history will prove us right. We made important strides in 2012, and with your continued help, we can do even more in 2013.