With nearly half of California's children age 8 and under living in low-income households, the chances for their achievement later in life are significantly diminished without policy changes, a new study says.
The report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the advocacy organization Children Now looks at children 8 and under around the country and lays out recommendations for investments in those children and their parents to give them a better shot at a productive adulthood.
The challenges are daunting, statistics in the report show. Federal spending, for example, is lowest on young children, the time when most brain development occurs. By age 8, the report notes, "most children in the United States are not on track in cognitive knowledge and skills, and many lag in the areas of social and emotional growth, physical well-being and engagement in school," the report notes. It says that 19% of 8-year-olds in families with incomes below 200% of the poverty level have age-appropriate cognitive skills.
Problems start earlier, the report notes, with 63% of low-income 3- and 4-year-olds not enrolled in preschool in 2011, and research showing that children from low-income households 12 to 14 months behind in language skills by the time they go to kindergarten.
Among the recommendations:
- States should establish or continue programs to train parents and provide home visits for at-risk children.
- States should include mental healthcare for parents in health services, in part to help cope with maternal depression, which has been shown to negatively affect child development.
- Streamline the various programs and benefits available to parents.
- States should set learning and development benchmarks.
- All-day, high-quality pre-kindergarten and kindergarten should be available to all children.
- Information should be linked across programs, departments and agencies to ensure that children get the services they need and be better able to transition from one program to the next. The report notes that 5% of low-income working families with children receive all the benefits for which they qualify.
"Every day that we delay is a day in the life of a child who could be benefiting from critical interventions," the report said. "Federal, state and local policymakers should look to the decades of evidence on the best practices in early childhood fields as they advance their legislative efforts."