Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.
- Neil Postman, The Disappearance of Childhood
These words, written more than 30 years ago, were part of a commentary on the decline of innocence in American culture. However, they hold just as true today when considering the special responsibility that we as adults have to support the healthy development of our most precious asset - our children, especially those whose futures are in jeopardy because of economic hardship.
In an ideal world, children receive support and guidance from their families and other caring adults in a range of settings that enable them to make a successful transition from child to adolescent to adult. However, few, if any, children live in an ideal world. And for those who are growing up in poor families, their chances of succeeding in school, having good mental and physical health, and realizing their full potential as adults are greatly compromised. They start out early on a path that puts them far behind more advantaged children, and many never catch up.
Since joining the National Center for Children in Poverty in October 2014 as its new director, one of my major priorities has been to ensure that the center continues to hold fast to its vision of an America where all families are economically secure, strong, and nurturing, and all children are supported so they thrive and grow into healthy adults. And there is a truth that will be at the heart of any discussion of children in poverty in which we are engaged: Children do better when their families do better. Whenever possible, we will make that fact abundantly clear as we work to advance our mission: promoting the economic security, healthy development, and well-being of America's low-income children and families.
NCCP celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2014. During its impressive quarter-century history, the center has always been focused on addressing the needs of both parent and child. As policies are crafted for children, we must ask ourselves, What are their parents up against? While there is widespread belief that poor children are poor through no fault of their own so deserve our support - at least up to a point - there is also the perception that poor adults - their parents - are responsible for their sorry situation and so must deal with it as best they can. One of my biggest priorities is to invalidate this belief, because when parents are burdened with such blame, their children shoulder it, too.
Research has shown us that low family income - and all the disadvantages that accompany it - can impede children's cognitive development and their ability to learn. It can contribute to behavioral, social, and emotional problems. It can trigger and exacerbate poor child health. The children at greatest risk are those who experience economic hardship when they are young, with poor outcomes being most severe among those who suffer through severe and chronic hardship.
So, as we move into the next phase of NCCP's life, the mutually reinforcing relationship between family economic security and healthy child development will be front and center in our work. We will carry on - and work to expand - our efforts to:
I invite you to use our website as a tool in your efforts to make a difference in the lives of children living in poverty. Our Family Economic Security group identifies and promotes what's needed to help families succeed and support their children, such as employment, wage, and job-training policies; work supports such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, child-care subsidies, family leave insurance; and other safety net programs such as Technical Assistance to Needy Families and food stamps. Our Early Childhood group focuses on the most effective supports for children's healthy development from birth to the early grades (e.g., access to home visiting, quality child care, early intervention), which is a critical time when experiences in the home, community, and school shape children's chances of success and well-being throughout their lives. And our Health and Mental Health group highlights the need to address prenatal and postpartum depression and anxiety, and identifies, evaluates, and promotes child and maternal health and mental health policies and programs.
NCCP also plays a major role in Research Connections, a partnership with the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, the Office of Child Care, and the Office for Planning, Research and Evaluation in the Administration for Children and Families, HHS. The website - www.researchconnections.org - promotes high-quality research in child care and early education and the use of that research in policy making.
We are working in the most effective ways we know how to ultimately reduce the number of children living in poverty. And, of course, we will continue to spread the message that Children do better when their families do better. I hope you will join us in our efforts.
Renée Wilson-Simmons, DrPH