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New Report: First 8 Years Are Critical To Children's Success

PHOTO: Jim Moeser of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families agrees with a new report that says the first eight years of a child's life are most critical to success. (Photo used with permission)
PHOTO: Jim Moeser of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families agrees with a new report that says the first eight years of a child's life are most critical to success. (Photo used with permission)
November 5, 2013

MADISON, Wis. – A newly released report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation says the first eight years of a child's life are critical, and that investing in those early years is a wise strategy.

Wisconsin has more than 644,000 children ages eight and younger, and the report says 42 percent of them are living in low-income households, which puts them at risk for lower gains in social, education, emotional and physical development.

Jim Moeser, deputy director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, says Wisconsin has made great strides in helping the state’s youngest children, and he likes the report's suggestions.

"It's a good, strong reaffirmation of growing research that says it's a good investment to get kids started off early, successfully,” he says. “It's both a question of access to good early learning as well as a cost-effective way of doing it, so we've got to really sort of get back on providing the resources to make it work as intended."

The new report points to research that shows that children who enter kindergarten with below-average language and cognitive skills can catch up, but only if they are in good health physically, and have a well-developed set of social and emotional skills.

Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and advocacy at the Casey Foundation, points out that so many critical things happen in the first eight years of a child's life.

She says helping parents, particularly low-income parents, can pay off down the road.

And, she adds, federal, state, and local resources should be aligned to support young children – and employers can play a role, as well.

"Having the flexible work schedule – it's so important,” she explains. “Also things like providing paid sick leave for parents could make a huge, huge difference."

The report emphasizes the importance of prekindergarten programs, and Moeser points out 90 percent of Wisconsin school districts offer free universal 4-year-old kindergarten, and that the state successfully competed for $34 million in federal Race to the Top funding to improve early development.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI