The following information is excerpted from an August, 2010 report issued by the Policy Group for Florida’s Families and Children. Read the full report “Investing in Florida’s Children: Good Policy, Smart Economics” by Kate Stowell.
Police chiefs and prosecutors, chiefs of staff for the military and Florida’s chief executive officers all agree: Not investing in young children presents a national security risk, threatens our economic prosperity and weakens our competitiveness in the global economy.
They all agree: Investing in early childhood is good policy and smart economics. Economic analyses confirm that improving children’s lives in the early years produces a high return on investment. Dollars spent on a child before age 5 produce a higher economic benefit than if the same amount were spent when the child is older (Heckman, 2007).
The strength of Florida’s labor force is the key to global competitiveness: greater productivity, more growth and higher profits.
But Florida does not invest wisely:
- 75% of applicants for the military are ineligible due to failure to graduate from high school, a criminal record or physical fitness issues.
- Of every 100 Florida students today, only 76 will graduate from high school; only 51 will attend college and only 32 will earn a B.S. degree within six years.
- Every high school dropout loses a quarter of million dollars in lifetime earnings, ultimately costing taxpayers up to $288,000 in additional costs of health care, public safety and other social programs.
These problems start early.
- Of children removed from their homes for maltreatment in Florida, the largest age group are babies under a year old (19.2%).
- Maltreatment at an early age is related to poor developmental outcomes. Up to 82% of maltreated infants have problems making affectionate bonds with caregivers. As they grow older, maltreated children are at higher risk for behavioral difficulties, truancy, delinquency, substance abuse and mental illness. Many addictions and mental health problems that endure through adulthood are established early in life.
- Children born with low birth weight and fewer parental resources have poorer health, are less likely to work and have lower earnings as adults.
- By age 4, a child in poverty has heard 30 million words less than his peers with college educated parents. As vocabulary is basic to school success and IQ, many children are left way behind even before kindergarten.
- Children who are chronically hungry are more likely to be in special education, to repeat a grade, to get into fights and to have lower test scores. It can cost up to four times as much to educate a child who doesn’t have enough to eat compared to one who does.
- Children’s self-control at age 4 can predict a variety of important outcomes such as SAT scores, educational attainment and drug use.
These problems should be addressed early.
Research has shown how to dramatically improve the odds of children growing up to be successful and contributing productively to the workforce. From pregnancy through early childhood, all of the environments in which children live and learn, and the quality of their relationships with caregivers have a significant impact on their development. What happens in early childhood can matter for a lifetime. But…
Prenatal Care. Florida ranks 34th in the nation in the percent of low-birth weight babies (less than 5½ pounds at birth)—8.7% of all births, or nearly 21,000 babies a year —with hospital stays alone averaging $141,000 per baby. Florida ranks 47th in the percentage of pregnant women receiving prenatal care in the first trimester. More than (30%) 71,000 women in Florida do not get prenatal care in the first trimester;
Health Insurance. Florida has the dismal rating of the second highest number of uninsured children in the nation (822,000 or 19%), second only to Texas with 21% and worse than Mississippi and Louisiana, versus a national average of 11%..
Parenting and Child Abuse Prevention. Florida’s child abuse rate is more than double the national rate (29.6 vs. 12.1 per thousand). Florida ranks 41st (9th worst) in child abuse deaths, yet the 2010 Florida Legislature cut the state’s Healthy Families program, which effectively prevents child abuse, by a third.
Screening and Early Intervention. Children in foster care have high rates of delays and despite a federal law requiring all maltreated children under age 3 to be screened for delays, Florida does not comply. Early Steps, the program designated to screen and intervene for all children with identified delays, is dramatically under-funded and so Early Steps has changed eligibility so fewer children will qualify.
This means that children will have to wait until their developmental delay is even more severe before they can receive services. By this time it is no longer early intervention and the delays are more costly to remediate.
In the 1980s, Florida had among the best neonatal intensive care unit follow-up programs in the nation for babies born prematurely or with developmental problems.In recent years, Legislative cuts drastically reduced funding so there is little follow-up of low birth weight babies despite studies showing long-term gains by doing so.
Quality Child Care. The majority of Florida’s child care for young children under 3 is minimal to poor. Average wages of $9 an hour without benefits (slightly under the national average) contributes to an exorbitant staff turnover rate of 30-40%.
Keeping trained staff is almost impossible. Waiting lists for subsidized child care also are growing; in 2007-08, more than 58,000 children were stranded on waiting lists. Florida serves less than 25% of poor infants and toddlers eligible for federally sponsored Early Head Start, a comprehensive, high-quality program with positive outcomes.
Pre-Kindergarten. Florida’s pre-kindergarten program began in the ‘80s funded with lottery dollars for at-risk 4-year-olds at $3,600, a full-day program with degreed teachers. Twenty-five years later, Florida spends $1,100 less per child in a three-hour a day program without degreed teachers, ranking Florida at the bottom of national spending.
Florida is the only state in the nation to actually decrease funding for pre-K two years in a row. And in 2009, Florida met only three of the 10 quality prekindergarten standards established by the National Institute for Early Education Research.This is a decrease from the previous year. Not surprising, 30% of Florida’s fourth graders did not meet even minimum reading proficiency on the FCAT.
We can no longer ignore the healthy development of infants and toddlers in Florida. Every system that touches the lives of children—as well as mothers before and during pregnancy—offers an opportunity to strengthen the foundations and capacities that make lifelong healthy development possible. Click on the links below to find information and updates about what you can do to advocate for and change the direction of policies and programs for the health and well-being of Florida’s youngest children and their families. Also click below to find summaries of the research evidence that must guide all future policy decisions made in the state of Florida, and nationally.
Two Florida organizations have taken a lead in advocating for systemic reform through responsive and responsible public policy. The Children’s Campaign engages diverse citizens, stakeholders and experts in non-partisan, consensus oriented dialogue, establishing a policy framework with specific recommendations, and taking action to hold our leaders accountable to create public policy and enact legislation for the health, safety, education, and well-being of Florida’s children.
Their Vision is to create a public policy environment where investments in children and the professionals who serve them is a priority.
Visit the Children’s Campaign website.
The non-partisan, privately financed Children’s Movement of Florida, led by David Lawrence Jr., retired publisher of The Miami Herald, continues its campaign to educate people about children’s issues and change the priorities of the state to make the well-being of children Florida’s highest priority.
Movement leaders point to Florida’s poor ranking in how it cares for children — especially from birth to age 5. For example: hundreds of thousands of children have no health insurance; prekindergarten programs don’t meet national standards; programs for special needs children are inadequate; and a quarter of the state’s public high school students don’t graduate.
President Obama calls on Congress to expand access to high-quality pre-school to every child in America, in his February 2013 State of the Union Address.
Updates on the Children’s Movement are posted regularly.
Advances in neuroscience, molecular biology, and genomics have taught us that: (1) early experiences are built into our bodies; (2) significant adversity early in life can produce physiological disruptions or embedded biological “memories” that undermine the development of the body’s stress response systems and affect the developing brain, cardiovascular system, immune system, and metabolic regulatory functions; and (3) these physiological disruptions can persist far into adulthood and lead to lifelong impairments in both physical and mental health.
These broadly accepted scientific principles send two clear and powerful messages to decision-makers who are searching for more effective ways to improve the health of the nation. First, health promotion and disease prevention policies focused on adults would be more effective if evidence-based investments were also made to strengthen the foundations of health in the prenatal and early childhood periods.
Second, the increasing prevalence of chronic disease across the life course could be lowered by reducing the number and severity of adverse experiences threatening the well-being of young children and by strengthening the protective relationships that help mitigate the harmful effects of toxic stress.
The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University publishes the most up-to-date research based articles and working papers of interest to family-centered infant mental health professionals. The most recent publication from the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child provides an authoritative summary of evidence indicating that health in the earliest years—actually beginning with the future mother’s health before she becomes pregnant—lays the groundwork for a lifetime of well-being.
The Foundations of Lifelong Health Are Built in Early Childhood
Leading economists conclude that investments in young children’s social-emotional development may be the best way to stimulate economic growth. View this for this provocative report, Cradle of Poverty, from the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child.
The Center on the Developing Child also provides access to useful webcasts, including several presented at the National Symposium on Early Childhood Science and Policy. A symposium hosted at Harvard in June 2008 was designed to build leadership capacity in the states for developing and implementing science based policies that enhance children’s learning, behavior and health.Presentations from that symposium are available for viewing and listening.