The human brain of a young child undergoes an astonishing rate of growth during the first year of life. With over a million neural connections being formed every second, the brain is constantly absorbing sensory information from the environment through sight, touch and sound.
Early learning activities in the child’s life further enhance the growth of these neural connections and create a strong foundation for their social and emotional development, communication skills, and speech and language learning. This foundation plays a crucial role in their journey towards adulthood.
Around the age of three, a child’s brain has already expanded to 80% of its adult size, allowing for the emergence of complex cognitive abilities. Therefore, early education is critical for their later development and success. The social and cognitive development in the first three years of a child’s life forms the basis for their lifelong learning, health, and overall well-being.
However, when a child grows up in an environment lacking economic stability, housing instability or homelessness, it can have a significant impact on their development and future prospects. These factors can create stress and instability that can disrupt the child’s ability to form secure attachments and relationships with caregivers, which are crucial for healthy social and emotional development.
Housing Instability and Homelessness
According to several studies conducted, children who grow up in economically disadvantaged households may experience food insecurity, inadequate healthcare and limited access to high-quality education and developmental resources. These conditions can have long-term effects on the child’s cognitive and academic development, as well as their physical and mental health.
Overcrowding, housing instability and homelessness can also impact a child’s well-being, as it can increase the risk of exposure to environmental toxins, infectious diseases and psychological stressors. These conditions can impede the child’s ability to learn, form healthy relationships and achieve their full potential.
To address family housing instability, the Bringing Families Home program was launched in California. This initiative offers financial aid and housing-related services to low-income families. Since its inception in 2016, the program has helped over 1,200 families secure permanent, long-term housing.
Oregon officials recently passed legislation in 2021 to assist homeless families and protect renters by increasing access to affordable housing. The plan includes $550 million for the development of new and existing affordable housing and emergency shelters. Similar initiatives in other states might be advantageous as well.
Child Development and Care
Access to quality child care is also crucial for children’s development, particularly in low-income households where parents may struggle to afford high-quality child care. Quality child care is quite important for economic stability and helps provide a safe and nurturing environment for children to learn, grow and develop important social and cognitive skills.
Overall, the economic conditions and living circumstances in which a child grows up can have a significant impact on their development and future prospects. Addressing these issues through policy and community-based interventions can help ensure that all children have the opportunity to reach their full potential, regardless of their socioeconomic status.
Economic stability is crucial to the well-being of families, as it provides a sense of safety, housing, and food security. However, systemic racism and racial wealth gaps continue to impact Economic stability, particularly for children of color who are more likely to be born into poverty and suffer from associated hardships throughout their lives.
One significant issue affecting economic stability for all families is the persistent gender wage gap, which results in men earning more than women on average. This gap disproportionately affects single mothers and is especially wide for black women when compared to white men.
The living conditions during infancy and toddlerhood have a significant impact on a child’s health and development, with lifelong consequences for the healthcare system, social services, and the justice system.
Fortunately, federal funding for pandemic relief has addressed some of these issues by expanding social service programs and studies have shown that child poverty levels have decreased to a record low of 5.2% in 2021. The Child Tax Credit and food benefit program expansion are among the contributing factors to this positive change.
Child Care Services
Child care services in the United States are varied, but access to quality care remains a challenge for many working parents. The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the difficulties, with school closures and social distancing protocols forcing many parents to balance work and child care from home.
Although financial assistance is available, many eligible families do not receive funding due to a lack of available resources. This has left many communities underserved and without access to quality care. In fact, statistics show that a significant percentage of children in both center-based and home-based care receive subpar quality care.
Child care services have also been impacted by the pandemic, with capacity limits and closures leading to reduced income and staffing shortages. This has created a difficult environment for children, who may have lost consistency and social interaction as a result.
Overall, the child care industry faces numerous challenges in the United States and efforts are needed to improve access and quality of care for families and providers alike.
In order for children to become successful adults, it is important for them to have a proper balance of stimulation during their early years of development. This can be achieved through quality education, housing facilities, financial security and reliable child care. Without these elements, children may face difficulties later in life that stem from their early years of learning. It is crucial to prioritize providing children with the necessary resources and support during their formative years to ensure their long-term well-being and economic stability.
Sandra Chiu works as Director at LadyBug & Friends Daycare and Preschool.