The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


August 27, 2013

Children in need


Dr. James J. Heckman, a Nobel Prize winning economist, has research showing early nurturing, learning experiences and physical health from birth to 5 greatly impact success or failure in society. The most economically efficient time to develop skills and social abilities is in the very early years when developmental education is most effective. According to Dr. Heckman, disadvantaged families are least likely to have the economic and social resources to provide early developmental stimulation every child needs as a basic opportunity for future success in school, college, career and life. Therefore, it is important to invest in educational and developmental resources for disadvantaged families to provide equal access to successful early human development.

The problem, unfortunately, is in our priorities. As an example, America spends more on defense than the next 10 countries combined. Meanwhile, the average expenditure for public schooling is $7,000-$18,000 a year per student. Why not begin at age birth? From birth to age 3 there is tremendous amount of brain growth but very little public spending during a crucial period of a child's life. For ages zero-three that would be on average about a $50 billion investment. Think about the return on that investment. Perhaps the $245 billion now spent annually on mental health problems for our children and adolescents would decrease substantially. Instead, the government spends $34 million on a military base in Afghanistan it will never use.

Children's brain health needs are often not met. One study of youth between ages 9 and 17 years found that only 38 percent of children meeting stringent criteria for a psychiatric diagnosis in the prior 6 months had had a mental health contact in the previous year. Neglected dental care is widespread. A study of preschoolers found that 49 percent of 4-year olds had cavities and fewer than 10 percent were treated. Another study found that 8.6 percent of kindergarteners needed urgent dental care.

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