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Investing in Early Childhood Development: Evidence to Support a Movement for Educational Change

Sices, Laura MD, MS; High, Pamela C. MD

Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics: December 2009 - Volume 30 - Issue 6 - p 602
doi: 10.1097/DBP.0b013e3181c59af2
Book Review

Division of Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics, Boston University School of Medicine/Boston Medical Center, Boston, MA (Sices)

Division of Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics, Hasbro Children's/Rhode Island Hospital and Brown-Alpert Medical School, Providence, RI (High)

Investing in Early Childhood Development: Evidence to Support a Movement for Educational Change

by Alvin R. Tarlov and Michelle Precourt Debbink, New York, NY, Palgrave MacMillan, 248 pp, Hardcover, $74.95.

This book is the result of a collaborative initiative to integrate research, education, and public policy to effect social determinants of health and health disparities in an area of maximum potential impact, early childhood education of 3- and 4-year-old children. The work comes out of a national conference held in 2004 at Rice University, entitled “A Summit on the Texas Health Plan: Enhancing Early Childhood Education and Development,” and is the effort of a multidisciplinary group of experts in research, education, and policy focused on this important and timely topic.

The work is a comprehensive and important overview of the topic of early childhood education intended to summarize evidence for increasing support for the development of policy and investment in high-quality educational programs for children during the critical preschool years. It is presented in 3 main sections. Part 1 summarizes the scientific evidence for early brain development, the importance of early relationships, and the relationship between development and health from multiple fields; it is an excellent synthesis aimed at understanding the link between science and policy. Part 2 presents examples of early childhood intervention programs for preschool-aged children, chosen for their creativity or distinctiveness, from a variety of state and local initiatives, including successful state models developed in North Carolina (Smart Start) and Texas. Part 3 builds on the previous chapters in integrating research and real-world experiences in discussions of public policy and social action as they relate to early child development and education, including issues of financing and long-term benefits from investments in early childhood education. Of particular interest are models for integration of services between sectors and agencies, with a focus on linking of each with common standards and guidelines/desired outcomes described in Chapter 10.

Although there has been significant attention paid to research and policy in the area of early intervention for children before the age of 3 years, the developmental and educational needs of preschool-age children between 3 and 5 years have not received much attention, and this work addresses a much-needed gap in integrating research, education, and policy across disciplines to create policy for successful and high-quality early education programs for this important age group. The book will be of great interest to individuals from a wide range of backgrounds but will be of particular interest to those with a background in developmental-behavioral pediatrics and related specialties. It can serve as an invaluable tool for presenting the value and importance of early quality early childhood education programs and policies and will resonate with those in our field, given the multidisciplinary and integrating approaches that are the foundation of our training. It provides an important background and evidence for work in policy and advocacy for the developmental needs of preschool-aged children. The book makes a strong and persuasive case for the need for comprehensive and intensive early childhood programs of high quality, based on the growing scientific evidence for early child development, family functioning, and social determinants of health.

Laura Sices, MD, MS

Division of Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics

Boston University School of Medicine/Boston Medical Center

Boston, MA

Pamela C. High, MD

Division of Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics

Hasbro Children's/Rhode Island Hospital and Brown-Alpert Medical School

Providence, RI

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Editor's note:

I agree with Dr. Sices that attention to the science demonstrating the importance and long-term outcomes of high-quality educational experiences for children 3 to 5 years is a vital area for policy makers and child advocates to understand and act upon. However, her statement that significant attention has been made by policy makers and researchers to early intervention for children younger than 3 years is true when we consider children with significant and demonstrable developmental delays but not always true when we consider children younger than 3 years at psychosocial risk, especially those vulnerable in large measure due to exposure to maternal depression, domestic violence, inadequate housing, and/or a myriad of other risk factors. Children younger than 3 years also will benefit from increased knowledge regarding the importance and advantages of high-quality early educational experiences, home visitation programs, attention to maternal mental health, and availability of evidence-based programs, which promote positive parenting, such as the one described in our second review in this edition of our journal. Promoting healthy and nurturing relationships between young children and caregivers in their homes and in high-quality educational settings is not only the right thing to do, it is the wisest economic policy our leaders can make (Shonkoff 2003; Knudsen EI 2006).

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1. Knudsen EI, Heckman JJ, Cameron JL, Shonkoff JP. Economic, neurobiological, and behavioral perspectives on building America's future workforce. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2006;103:10155–10162.
2.Shonkoff J. From neurons to neighborhoods: old and new challenges for developmental and behavioral pediatrics. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2003;24:70–76.
© 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.