Focus on children to prevent disparities

Martha McCoy
September 9, 2013

Two young girls huggingWhat many perceive as an “achievement gap” is actually an “opportunity gap” that starts at the beginning of life.

In the last decade, our understanding of human development has grown at a rapid pace. Now we know that the first years of life lay the foundation for how well we will do for the rest of our lives. 

There are serious differences in how young children are doing, long before they get to school. Since there are racial, ethnic and income gaps in family access to good jobs, preventive health care, good nutrition, and quality pre-school, it is no wonder that these gaps exist. These disparities take a huge toll on our children and on our communities.

As children grow older, they and their families continue to experience opportunity gaps. These systemic problems compound each other. Early gaps in development then translate into differences in test scores, in graduation rates, in access to good-paying jobs, and in access to good housing.

Now that we know more about the critical importance of early childhood, we know that focusing on the well-being of our children will yield tremendous benefits for them and for our communities. We know that prenatal care, access to fresh food, and reading to children at a young age are all things that increase the chance for success later in life.

Since we understand more about what is causing the inequities that are affecting our children, we understand more about how to change those inequities. Instead of focusing all our efforts on closing the gaps once they occur – as important as those efforts are -- we need to spend more time and resources preventing those disparities during the early years of a child’s life.     

The cycle of inequity can be stopped.

Growing numbers of informal and formal leaders now understand that we must create racial and economic equity for our youngest children. This essential work calls for parents and community members from all income levels, cultures, racial, ethnic and linguistic backgrounds to have a real voice in our institutions and communities. We can create a different future -- one where all children can thrive.

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