There is a persistent and ever widening divide in our country between those who have plenty and those who suffer poverty.
Nowhere are the effects of that divide more harmful, and often irreversible, than in the lives of the children born into poverty. It is in the experiences of those early years, from conception through age three, when the brain develops to 80 percent of its capacity, that a course for long-term well-being is set.
Last year, 40 percent of the children in Memphis were born into poverty. It is a sobering realization that without significant intervention in the lives of the parents and children who suffer the atrocities of poverty, our society faces the potential loss of human capital, and the children face the loss of their potential to grow up to be productive, successful adults.
Here in Memphis and Shelby County, there is hope. That hope comes from the work of the Urban Child Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the health and well-being of children from conception to age three.
This is not just good news for children in poverty; it is good news for all children, since all parents, children and educators can benefit from the results of UCI’s impressive research on brain development and the strategies developed to promote early childhood education. “Everyone who deals with young children needs this information,” said Gene Cashman, president and CEO of UCI, “to assist in providing that strong foundation in the early years of brain development that directly relates to the later years.”
The Urban Child Institute leverages its partnerships with other groups in the community that collaborate with, and support, both the research efforts and the implementation of the solutions that will give each child a fair start in life.
One major partner in research on the conditions affecting learning in early childhood is the University of Tennessee Department of Preventive Medicine, whose longitudinal study provides data that will assist in making decisions about how to best allocate resources that will positively impact early childhood learning.
One partner in implementing solutions is the Neighborhood Christian Center. The Touch, Talk, Read, and Play program developed by UCI is incorporated in the parent education component at the NCC.
UCI provides research-based information through the publication of its annual Data Book: the State of Children in Memphis and Shelby County. The good news from the 2013 report is that conditions are steadily improving.
The data report, which has become the definitive source of information about children in Memphis and Shelby County, also highlights the best practices of early childhood education. UCI is a strong advocate for public policies that are good for children.
The work of the Urban Child Institute in improving the quality of life for all citizens in Memphis and Shelby County continues to expand. Katy Spurlock, director of education at UCI, framed that emerging work as “focusing on the social and emotional development of young children, along with brain development, and the long-term impact of nurturing.”
Contact Dr. Mary C. McDonald, a national education consultant, at 574-2956 or visit mcd-partners.com.