Parents are a child’s first teacher and each parent comes from a variety of backgrounds with different skills, experiences, and cultural norms. Unfortunately, there is no “one size fits all” manual to tell parents how to raise their children. As a mother of two, if such a manual existed I would buy it in a heartbeat. Parenting is the most challenging, yet rewarding experience a person can have.
In St. Joseph County, families are struggling. The recession put many out of work or facing wage cuts. Unemployment and tight family budgets put families under enormous stress. This situation affects the children and puts them at a higher risk for abuse and/or neglect.
The need for early intervention services for young children in St. Joseph County is high. Almost one in four children is living in poverty in the county. Since 2000, the Free and Reduced Priced Lunch rose 26.4 percent with now almost 60 percent of the county’s children eligible for the program. From 2000 to 2010, mortgage foreclosures increased 290 percent. These factors create stress on the family and the children.
According to the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, the latest brain research shows that toxic stress is harmful to children’s development. Children who grow up in families living in poverty and those facing economic hardship often experience toxic stress and higher levels of cortisol. This reaction to prolonged stressors can affect the architecture of the brain, making it more difficult for children to learn. In addition, these children react more extremely to cases of mild stress. This affects the long term development of the child and can affect their mental and physical well-being as an adult.
The early formative years in a child’s development are crucial. Home visiting programs such as Parents as Teachers, Healthy Families America, and Nurse Family Partnership, have proven outcomes to reduce child abuse and neglect and increase school readiness for children. These programs benefit the community and have a rate of return of up to $5.70 per dollar spent due to reduced costs in the criminal justice system, less dependence welfare, and increased employment.
Home visiting programs help develop the future workforce. These programs are a smart investment and can help create a strong healthy community.
Amy Brauer is the Coordinator of the St. Joseph County Great Start Collaborative, an initiative of the St. Joseph County Human Services Commission. For more information on how you can get involved in supporting young children in our community, please visit www.sjcgsc.org or call 269-467-5309.