Children Are Our Future, but Their Futures Are Often Up to Us

In a list of the top 10 most frequently used phrases, "children are our future" must surely be included.

All of us believe it and most of us have said it at one time or another. The question for us then is this: why is it so hard for the reality of our youngest children to match our rhetoric? Often, it feels that on issues of early childhood, it's one step forward, two steps back.

It's certainly not because the science and the research are unclear. In truth, they could not be more unequivocal: there is no time more important in every person's brain development than the earliest years of life. By the time a toddler blows out the three candles on the cake celebrating his third birthday, his brain has grown to 80% of its adult size, soaking up experiences, building vocabulary, and developing character. These are the years when the foundations are laid for all future learning and when interventions produce dramatic returns on investments.

And yet, funding for early childhood intervention programs often have targets on their backs. We regret the potential closing of the BLUES project, a local program battling infant mortality. In our nation's Capitol, funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, commonly referred to as the WIC program, may be reduced, cutting the strings of the safety net for hundreds of Memphis women and children. The funding reduction could happen despite extensive research showing that WIC improves birth outcomes, reduces child anemia, and improves nutrition.

But there are signs of hope. We salute the majority of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners, with strong support of Mayor Luttrell, for voting to continue the important work of the Shelby County Office of Early Childhood and Youth. The office is crucial to our community success in improving early childhood services and increasing public awareness about the importance of children's earliest years. All of us who care about the future of Memphis and Shelby County should be proud that our county government sent an unmistakable message about this issue.

As for messengers, no one is better than Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam, who recently relied on our brain development research to highlight the role churches can play in raising healthier children by lending support to the "First Ladies for Healthy Babies" program. The plan is built on the fundamental role that churches have to play in spreading the "Touch, Talk, Read, Play" creed. The best news is that the First Lady was expecting a dozen women church leaders to attend the kickoff luncheon recently held at The Neighborhood Christian Center (NCC), a ministry uniting 86 congregations. About 200 attended, demonstrating the growing support for early childhood interventions. NCC partners with The Urban Child Institute to provide information on what parents can do to promote optimal brain development in children under the age of three.

Yes, children are our future. But, the futures of many are up to us.