The Urban Child Institute (UCI) began publication of the Data Book: The State of Children in Memphis and Shelby County in 2006 to inspire action by encouraging data-driven decisions, illuminating the challenges and opportunities facing our community, and shaping a community-wide conversation about the importance of ensuring every child a fair start in life.

Since that time, the community has frequently used the annual Data Book, citing statistics from it in local discussions, policy development, and grant applications. UCI also invested in a longitudinal study of 1,500 Shelby County mother-child dyads, known as CANDLE, that uniquely brings together biological, physical, and behavioral data to further our understanding of the drivers of early child well-being.

This year, UCI took a step back and asked ourselves how children in Shelby County are doing and where we, as a community, still have challenges. It was important to conduct this examination to ensure the Data Book was useful to the community and to identify how the Data Book can uniquely contribute to local work. Our analysis was clear—unless our children have the supports and nurturing environments to thrive, their future and the future of our community will not be bright. While UCI spent many years focusing on cognitive outcomes and the science of brain development, other important issues—like the social and emotional well-being of our children—deserved more attention.

But why social and emotional development and why now? In order for children to flourish and succeed in the 21st century, they must be able to problem solve, to develop resilience and handle stress, and to interact appropriately with peers and adults. But these abilities are not acquired overnight; brain science demonstrates that the foundation for these skills is laid early. While there is significant national focus on the racial/ethnic and economic disparities in academic achievement and other cognitive outcomes, far less attention has been paid to the capacities that help build social and emotional skills. Unfortunately, our community faces all the stressors that can impede child social and emotional growth. We have difficult community conditions, such as violence and poverty. However, we also have the assets that support healthy social and emotional development, such as a strong faith and nonprofit community. Through this book, UCI calls for a dialogue on how to support the youngest members of our community and catalyze action in this direction.

What is new? You may notice a few differences in the 2014 Data Book, now called Off to a Good Start: Social and Emotional Development of Memphis’ Children. First, we organize our discussion around themes related to child social and emotional development, whereas the original Data Book series focused on cognitive development and the science of the brain. We hope that by organizing the book in this way, diverse community stakeholders (nonprofits, health professionals, faith community leaders, educational and human services, providers, parents, and policymakers) can use the book in different ways. Readers can still draw out data specifically relevant to their concerns and interests. But it is also possible to read individual sections one at a time, or read the whole book cover to cover to obtain the full story of children in Shelby County. Second, we have created more sections in each chapter. We include an explanation of why the topic matters, summary data from local and national sources, and recommendations for community action. In adding this detail, we hope the book grounds the discussion more firmly in scientific evidence. Finally, we have partnered with the RAND Corporation, a leading nonprofit research and policy analysis organization, which helped UCI reconceptualize the purpose, content, and rigor of the evidence summarized in Off to a Good Start.

Off to a Good Start is simply one part of The Urban Child Institute’s vision for the future. We hope you will enjoy the new look and orientation of this year’s book. We encourage your comments and your stories of how you use Off to a Good Start in your efforts on behalf of Shelby County children.

Eugene K. Cashman Jr.
President & CEO
The Urban Child Institute