A recent article from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention supports efforts to build comprehensive, cross-sector, birth-through-age-eight early childhood systems. Addressing Health Disparities in Early Childhood notes that current child- and family-serving systems are limited in their effectiveness because of restrictions on who they can serve (children vs. parents, age ranges of children) and what types of services they can provide. The result is the fragmented early childhood system we know so well.
The article proposes another approach – start young, focus on prevention, base service provision in relationships, and integrate services across the domains of a child’s life. Children and families don’t come in silos, and neither should the systems that serve them. The article supports many values that undergird the NC Pathways to Grade Level Reading initiative:
- Brain development sets the stage for everything else to come, and starts even before birth, so starting young is critical.
- Poverty and other chronic stressors impede optimal child development and can have cumulative, life-long effects.
- Screening, assessment and linking children to needed services is a way to identify at-risk children early and ensure their best possible outcomes. Given the known impacts of poverty on young children, screening for social determinants of health is critical as well.
- A system to ensure comprehensive services for children all along the spectrum of need is critical to prevent kids who don’t quite meet eligibility requirements from falling through the cracks.
- Just as children’s heads cannot be separated from their bodies, care for physical, developmental and mental/behavioral health should be integrated.
- Supporting the people in children’s lives—parents and other caregivers—is critical to ensure that they can best support the children they care for.
Creating a more streamlined, collaborative system for children and families can also address disparities in outcomes by reducing barriers to effective services.