Learning, Flourishing and Ready to Achieve: Expanding Access to Early Head Start in Shelby County

Young children are the poorest group of Memphians, and poverty strikes young children especially hard. Between conception and age three, a child's brain develops at an astonishing pace as that child interacts with her environment. During this period, pathways in the brain that are used repeatedly are strengthened, while pathways that are not used are pruned. Children living in poverty during these early years face developmental disadvantages as a result of social deprivation, language deficits, and hightened levels of stress, fear and uncertainty.

Children placed at high risk due to poverty are also the most likely to benefit from access to high quality, center based, early care and education. However, these programs are expensive, placing them beyond the means of the families who need them the most. The federal Early Head Start program (EHS) is a promising exception.

  • Designed to promote healthy physical, emotional and cognitive growth for at-risk children, EHS has been shown to improve child developmental outcomes and to strengthen parenting skills.
  • Currently, less than one percent of eligible children in Shelby County have access to EHS.