Reducing Poverty and Restoring the American Dream: An Opportunity and Responsibility for Child Advocates

Early Childhood
Poverty & Family Economics

This blog post was originally published by the Child & Family Policy Center.

 “Chronic stress and unpredictability can cause substantial changes in children’s brains and therefore their behavior, in ways that impede later success in education, work, and the creation of stable families. … Low stress, high predictability, and strong, stable relationships with caring adults all help children become measurably better at self-regulating, delaying gratification, and controlling their impulses. If we want adult citizens who can exercise responsibility, we should do as much as we can to improve the security of childhood.”

One might expect such commentary to be part of a working group document from the American Academy of Pediatrics or the Institute of Medicine or a policy brief from the Center on the Developing Child. In fact, however, this commentary is a major part of a new report developed by researchers, across the political spectrum, whose careers have been focused on developing public welfare policy to address poverty. These poverty scholars came together to develop what they have labeled “a consensus plan” for reducing poverty – based on principles of and the title for the report, Opportunity, Responsibility, and Security.  Children and their families, and young children in particular, are an extensive focus for the report, which includes many recommendations consistent with those the early-childhood community has been making for decades.

What makes this report important is that, along with Robert Putnam’s Our Kids,  it presents an opportunity to elevate early-childhood policy to much greater public visibility and dialogue – including in the 2016 Presidential campaign. Democratic candidates for President will participate in a Brown and Black Forum in Iowa on January 11, 2016 that will address some of these issues, and their January 15 debate is co-sponsored by the Black Congressional Caucus, which will certainly focus on issues of poverty. Republican candidates for president will participate in the Jack Kemp Foundation’s Forum on Expanding Opportunity on January 9, moderated by House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator Tim Scott. This forum is expected to draw heavily on these reports.

Importantly, Opportunity, Responsibility, and Security includes recommendations for improving child care quality, expanding home visiting, and expanding the role of primary and preventive health services in strengthening parenting. While it does not get into many of the details on how these can best be achieved, it sets a framework for serious discussion. In particular, it emphasizes the role child health practitioners, particularly in the early years, need to play in responding to social determinants of health related to improving the safety, stability and nurturing in the home environment.

Opportunity, Responsibility, and Security does not have all the answers to ensuring we can eliminate poverty and its impacts on society within a generation. But it does expand the focus of research and advocacy around what needs to be done and does so in ways that begin to bridge differences across the political spectrum and mold consensus for needed action for our kids. It represents an opportunity for broadening and deepening attention to early childhood as key to American society’s prosperity and leadership in the 21st Century world. Child health practitioners, researchers, policy experts and advocates all have a new opportunity – and responsibility – to contribute to this dialogue and shape policy actions.

Charles Bruner, Paul Dworkin, and Maxine Hayes are part of a “kitchen cabinet” guiding efforts to develop a Collaborative Innovation Network (CoIN) on advancing primary health care strategies that respond to social as well as bio-medical determinants of health. The CoIN is part of the new BUILD Initiative and Child and Family Policy Center Learning Collaborative on Health Equity and Young Children, whose policy brief, Top 10 Things We Know About Young Children and Health Equity … and Three Things We Need to Do with What We Know, offers a framework for the CoIN and Learning Collaborative.


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