In a recent Washington Post article it was reported that the federal Healthy Start program was changing and becoming more of a competitive grant program. That would be totally counterproductive to the stated goals of the program. Rather than cutting it, this program should be expanded to include even more children and focus on them from birth to five.
According to the Health Resources and Services Administration's (HRSA) website "The Healthy Start program works to prevent infant mortality in 87 communities with infant mortality rates at least 1.5 times the national average and high rates of low birth weight, preterm birth, maternal mortality and maternal morbidity (serious medical conditions resulting from or aggravated by pregnancy and delivery). Healthy Start communities are some of our nation's poorest and Healthy Start families frequently struggle to meet their most basic needs. Healthy Start reaches out to pregnant women and new mothers and connects them with the health care and other resources they need to nurture their children."
The benefits of this program have been seen in the District of Columbia, a city of both rich and poor. There are parents who can afford the best for their children and don't need help and parents who desperately need help so their children can grow up healthy with the opportunity to reach their full potential. Both sets of parents want the best for their children but one group either doesn't have the knowledge or the resources, or both, to do what is needed. The Healthy Start program is making a difference.
The Mayor of the D.C. recently announced the District's partnership in a Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) program called Stronger2gether. It is a public-private partnership with over 40 CGI partners working to improve maternal and child-health outcomes. According to the Mayor "Stronger2gether is working to reduce infant mortality utilizing innovative analytics, best clinical practices and the mobilization of community partners. The idea is to create a culture of health and help babies get to their first birthday healthy and ready to thrive." One must question why when CGI and its 40 partners recognize the importance of such a program the federal government is cutting back theirs.
Our priorities as a nation must include a focus on children and their quality of life from birth to age five. We need to not only keep children alive but ensure that with a combination of nature and nurture they thrive.
Ensuring that children do well is the goal of a new Clinton Foundation initiative begun by Hillary Clinton. The foundation in partnership with Next Generation began a project called Too Small to Fail. Its stated goal is, "to help parents, caregivers, communities and businesses take meaningful, evidence-based actions that will improve the health and well-being of America's youngest children, age zero to five, and prepare them to succeed in the 21st century."
According to its materials the Too Small to Fail project, which builds on the work for children that has been the hallmark of Hillary Clinton's career, it is based on the fact that, "Research on the brain informs us that the most important time in building a person's capacity to learn and understand is between the ages of zero to five. That is when with appropriate stimulation a child's brain grows the fastest and synapses connect. It is the time when every sound, every sight, every touch, and every spoken word get gathered together and filed away to be referenced and built upon with every interaction as the brain develops. It is during these first few years of life that we learn language, important social and emotional skills, critical thinking, and how to focus on tasks at hand."
If we strengthen our focus on infants and young children we will accomplish what has been the elusive holy grail of the education system; doing away with the achievement gap. We can ensure every child comes to school equally ready to learn. While Too Small to Fail is developing a public action campaign and testing it out in a number of communities, others need not wait to adopt this idea. One option is to push for expanding Healthy Start. We should provide for each child age zero to five who doesn't have someone at home who can do it; a mentor who will talk to, read to, sing to, and play music for them.
We need to model this program on the idea some attribute to an old African proverb, and which Hillary used as the title for her book, 'It Takes a Village'. We must involve the whole community, including the faith community, so that each child has at least one person able to commit the quality time it will take to make a difference in their lives from zero to five. We must insist that government not shirk what should be its responsibility and provide the funding for our children's future when others either can't or won't.