Washington joins coalition on child development

Washington has been chosen as the first state in the country to join a national coalition of groups that uses emerging research on child development to help create better outcomes for vulnerable children and their families.

Gov. Christine Gregoire’s office made the announcement Oct. 24.

The coalition, called Frontiers of Innovation (FOI), is a national community of researchers, practitioners, policymakers, states and sites “committed to advancing the field of early childhood policy and practice through collaborative learning and the testing and implementation of creative, new ideas,” according to the governor’s office.

Gregoire said being part of FOI will strengthen efforts already under way by the state.

“We in Washington understand that a high-quality early childhood system that prepares a child for success in school and in life focuses heavily on healthy positive relationships between a child and adults in their life,” she said. “With our 10-year statewide Early Learning Plan, the research done by the University of Washington Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, and strong public and private partnerships, we are ready to focus even more intently on using emerging brain research to shape our early childhood policies and programs.”

Frontiers of Innovation

Frontiers of Innovation (FOI) is operated by the Early Childhood Innovation Partnership (ECIP). The partnership consists of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Governors Association for Best Practices and the TruePoint Center for High Performance and High Commitment (TruePoint).

State level participants include the Department of Early Learning, Department of Social and Health Services, Department of Health, the Health Care Authority and Thrive by Five Washington.

Research and policy

Jack Shonkoff, a leading expert in early childhood and brain development, and director of the Center on the Developing Child, said Washington’s participation in FOI again reinforces the state’s commitment to education.

“Washington continues to be at the forefront of using science to make policy decisions about how to help children grow up healthy and ready for school,” he said. “Leaders in Washington understand how critical early childhood experiences are in shaping a child’s future development, and we want to build upon that understanding through our work together.”

The governor’s office noted a number key ideas that research has shown, among them:

• Interactions between children and the adults in their lives — parents, caregivers and others — help shape brain circuits and lay the foundation for academic performance and interpersonal skills.

• Early childhood experiences affect the development of a child’s “executive function” — skills that allow people to attend to multiple streams of information, plan ahead and revise plans as necessary.

• Severe and chronic adversity in early childhood can cause what’s known as “toxic stress,” which impacts the way a child’s brain grows and develops.

It is in the area of combatting toxic stress that the state hopes to focus its efforts, the Governor’s office notes. Initial goals for Washington will include:

• Supporting interventions that protect the integrity of maturing brain circuitry and establish the foundation for lifelong health and learning.

• Providing interventions to improve executive functioning and self-regulation for children, youth and adults.

• Assuring more stable and secure caregiving contexts for vulnerable young children.

• Strengthening the capacities of parents, caregivers, staff and providers of early care, social and health services, and education to buffer children from the consequences of persistent or recurrent toxic stress.


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