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Early childhood investments should include support for caregivers, panel hears

To inform policy priorities during this session and beyond, the House Early Childhood Finance and Policy Committee dedicated its Thursday meeting to better understanding the data and neuroscience of children.

Research increasingly shows that experiences during the prenatal period and first 2 to 3 years after birth affect lifelong health and school achievement, according to Pat Levitt, vice president and chief scientific officer of The Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

During his presentation, Levitt noted that several researchers from Minnesota have made significant contributions to this work.

“Minnesota really has fabulous individuals extremely dedicated to changing how we’ve operated for years in this country, which is to put most of our investment later, and put very little investment early,” Levitt said, adding that a shift to investing more in early childhood programs makes the most sense economically.   

When considering what to prioritize, Levitt suggested policies should center on:

  • reducing sources of stress such as food insecurity;
  • enabling children and their caregivers to develop emotional and behavioral regulation; and
  • teaching caregivers tools to develop healthy, responsive relationships.

One of the most significant factors in lifelong success is having supportive and responsive relationships beginning in infancy, according to Levitt. Problematically, neglect accounts for close to 80% of adverse childhood experiences.

“That means that attention and programs and early investments are not just about targeting the infant but it’s targeting the caregiver as well to provide them with the abilities and skillsets to be able to [engage and respond] in a healthy way,” he said.

Members, including Rep. Kelly Morrison (DFL-Deephaven), who works as a professional OB-GYN, shared support for centering policy priorities on research. 

“I have obviously both a professional and personal interest in child development, and also in evidence-based policy making,” she said. “And boy there is a huge body of evidence that suggests that this is exactly where we should be investing our resources.”

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