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Early Childhood Initiative Survey

Over the last few years considerable attention has been paid to early brain development research and the importance of creating a safe, loving, and stimulating environment for children during the first few years of life.

This reaffirmation of the importance of early childhood development stems from efforts by researchers such as Ramey and Campbell, principal investigators of the Carolina Abecedarian Study. The study consisted of 111 infants, who were randomly chosen and divided into two groups. The treatment group consisted of 57 infants. They were given "early intervention in a high quality childcare setting"(The Carolina Abecedarian Project, 1999). The remaining 54 infants, in the control group, did not receive any special services. The goal of the study was to examine whether the course of a child's life could be altered by increasing the amount of stimulation and education they receive in the early stages of life. The research had significant results and "definitively links high quality infant/preschool child care with positive outcomes in the children as adults" (The Carolina Abecedarian Project, 1999).

Dr. Harry T. Chugani, medical director at Children's Hospital of Michigan, found that if cells are not stimulated at the right time during the growth process they can lose the ability to access that particular function in the future. For example, if a baby is born with very thick cataracts in the eyes and the cataracts are not removed from the eyes in 2 to 3 years, the brain will decide that the visual cortex (which gets the information from the eyes) is not functioning and will reassign this area of the brain to something else. This was a clear indication of what could happen to the mind of a child when stimulation is not present on a continuous basis during the "critical periods" of growth (Missouri Division of Social Services, 1999).

Dr. Barry Zuckerman, pediatrician and chairman at Boston University Medical School, discovered links between brain cells, which allow us to think, feel, and grow in life. Dr. Bruce Perry, a neuropyschiatrist at Baylor College of Medicine, took the research further and examined the means by which the brain learns and absorbs knowledge. His research confirms that even though a child may experience abuse or neglect, the mind will always be capable of recovering. The impact of the abuse or neglect cannot be erased but "early life traumatic experiences do not have to be permanently debilitating" (Missouri Division of Social Services, 1999). As interventions improve, services such as home visiting, Early Start, Head Start, Parents As Teachers and many more can be used to prevent or counteract the effects of child abuse, neglect or the lack of stimulation.

At the last two CWLA Commissioners' Roundtables in Portland, Maine, state child welfare commissioners were presented information on early brain and childhood development. The commissioners were impressed with the information presented and were intrigued by the role that child welfare agencies could play in reducing exposure to critical risk factors during early childhood.

One of the requests by the attendees was that CWLA document current state initiatives to enhance early childhood development. As a result, CWLA developed the Early Childhood Initiative Survey. This survey was mailed to all 50 states. This website features the results from the 38 states that responded to the survey.

This was an exploratory survey. The primary goal of the survey was first, to determine if states were aware of the early childhood research and second, to ascertain if states were developing initiatives to enhance early childhood development.

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