Policy Making at the Intersections: Foundations for Healthy Child Development
- Created on Friday, 23 September 2011 16:21
Because issues don’t affect people in a vacuum, policymaking must take into account the multiple ways that issues interact in people’s lives. Especially now, when so many families are being impacted by the recession, every policy debate should take into account the disturbing fact that poverty is worsening, and how we address the problem today will have a significant impact on the next few generations.
Yesterday, data from the American Community Survey were released, and along with Census data released earlier this week, the numbers paint a picture of a state wracked by the recession. First, Minnesotans experienced a decrease in median household income from $56,592 in 2009 to $55,459. The overall poverty rate has grown to 11.6% and child poverty has increased from 11.4% to 15.2% in the last two years. And these data confirm long-term trends that began before the recession; child poverty has increased over 56% since 2000.
The rise in child poverty in Minnesota should be alarming to everyone. The toxic stress that accompanies child poverty has a profound, lasting impact on the lives of children who are exposed to the stresses and burdens of family economic hardship. In the last decade, researchers have been working to clarify the relationship between stress and child development especially among very young children (three and younger). The findings provide real insight into the social costs of child poverty, and other early childhood experiences, and have some very useful implications for policy makers.
At Harvard’s Center for the Developing Child, recent findings show, that “toxic stress response can occur when a child experiences strong, frequent, and/or prolonged adversity—such as physical or emotional abuse, chronic neglect, caregiver substance abuse or mental illness, exposure to violence, and/or the accumulated burdens of family economic hardship—without adequate adult support.” Research has found that toxic stress has a physical impact on brain development, which can inhibit a child’s ability to succeed.
In addition to the initial research on the impact of stress, significant work has been put into determining ways to effectively provide solutions. Targeted early childhood intervention programs that support families by providing quality early learning experiences, supplemental work supports, stable housing, and health care coverage all help reduce toxic stress. The benefits of ensuring healthy development extend way beyond individual wellbeing. Art Rolnick, former Senior Vice President and Director of Research at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, has been one of the nations leading voices touting the community-wide financial return on investment that these types of programs provide.
So at a time when families are more stressed than ever, it is imperative for Minnesota’s health that we do everything we can to support our children. I know that times are tough for our state budget, but the short-term budget cuts that we have enacted in the last few budget cycles are slowly eroding our foundation of support for vulnerable families. At a time when more people are in need, they need our collective support more than ever. If we don't start making policy decisions that are much more forward thinking, it will cost us all the more in the future.