Early Years Study 2: Putting Science into Action

New research confirms clearer links between early child development and its impact on the growing brains of young children

TORONTO, March 26 /CNW/ - The Council for Early Child Development published today the much anticipated Early Years Study 2: Putting Science into Action, a follow up to the 1999 Mustard/McCain Early Years Study, a groundbreaking report that recommended an integrated system of community based early child development and parenting centres linked to the school system.

This second report focuses on the scientific evidence supporting the importance of early learning and care as it relates to childhood development.

Early Years Study 2: Putting Science into Action further describes how in the earliest years of life, crucial brain functions set the stage for future development. The findings affirm that experience-based brain development in the early years of life sets neurological and biological pathways that affect lifelong health, learning, and behaviour.

The research indicates a growing ability to identify early signs of developmental compromises and challenges. This then allows intervention strategies to be implemented early - while the brain is still able to be shaped - and mitigate serious developmental, psychological and behavioural disorders.

"This report further supports earlier findings that tell us exactly how important those first years of life really are," says Fraser Mustard, a long time advocate for early child development. "If we can address needs and children in care early, rather than later, we can help that child reach their maximum potential. It also means we can equal the playing field for all children."

Moreover, the critical role of emotions and emotional processes in the healthy development of the brain were found to be affected by positive early experiences. Early positive experiences were also seen to be related to the amount of stress in the early years of life and its development of the brain and the long-term effects on physical and mental health. Everything in an infant's environment contributes to brain development - noise, light, changes in temperature, the touch, voice and smell of a caregiver. These discoveries indicate that genes are "nurtured", meaning they are affected by environmental factors.

"This dramatic discovery in molecular biology involves the interplay between early experiences and how, where and when genes work," says Dr. Stuart Shanker, President, Council for Early Child Development. "If we can positively influence a child's early experiences, we can then influence the way their genes are matured and set a pathway for success."

In addition to the scientific studies, Early Years Study 2: Putting Science into Action addresses the need for community involvement and our ability to create a pluralistic society - a democratic society that respects diversity and equity of opportunity. Today's families are adapting to the shifting realities of global economies, technological advances, and increasing demands to produce a new, healthy, competent generation capable of participating in rapidly changing, democratic societies.

Dr. Robin Williams, Medical Officer of Health with the Regional Municipality of Niagara agrees, stating, "We need to place a real priority on our children." She adds that, "Our future will depend on our ability to manage the complex interplay of the emerging new economy, changing social and physical environments and the impact of change on individuals, particularly young children in their most vulnerable, early years."

Where families fit on the economic ladder contributes to children'sdevelopmental outcomes, but income is not the whole story. Many children in low-income families are doing just fine, and some children living in affluence are not doing well. The largest number of at-risk children are those from middle class families, while the largest percentage are children from poorer families.

Some success stories can already be seen across the county with effective programs making a difference to Canadian children and families. Bruce Public School in Toronto, in conjunction with Woodgreen Community Centre is a very exciting example of how a school, community and neighbourhood work together.

"Getting it Right at 18 Months" is a program in some Ontario communities that improves the link between children at 18 months and their families, and the primary care practitioners to access one child's health and their stage of development and strengthen their links to community. It then links the family to community resources. In Hamilton, schools are developing child development and parenting hubs for children with language needs. These changes are paying off with improved school performance.

"It's true that we have begun to see examples of programs that are working. However, many more are needed. This report clearly points to the need for further resources provided not only by government, but by business leaders as well," states Charlie Coffey. "We need to set an example and show strong leadership by backing such an important issue. Our country's economic future and our ability to compete is at stake."

Early Years Study 2: Putting Science into Action outlines what is needed now for early child development and what is needed for the future. Five key action items include: Harness the Evidence, Connect Communities, Influence Public Policies, Cultivate Leaders and Monitor Results.

The Council will take the findings of this study to decision makers and community leaders and the public across this country. Our commitment is to make a positive difference for children and their families.

Also happening this week is the "Spring Forward! Early Years National Conference" presented by Success By 6 Peel and the Council for Early Child Development. The conference brings together early child development professionals to share their knowledge and experiences. Participants include service providers, researchers, educators and policy makers. More information can be found at www.councilecd.ca

Founded by Dr. Fraser Mustard in 2004, the Council for Early Child Development is based on the recommendations of the Early Years Study (McCain & Mustard, 1999). The Board of Directors draws from business, education, health, academia, early child development communities, and private citizens. The Council's operation is supported by foundation and private sector contributions. It is a not-for-profit, non-governmental association of community and scientific networks with a focus on early child development science and community action.

For further information: including PDF copies of Early Years Study 2: Putting Science into Action, please contact Jennifer McIntyre, jmconsults@sympatico.ca, (416) 627-9891