One of the best ways to beat poverty is to reach children early (See Nicholas Kristof’s article in the Sept 14 New York Times).
When babies are stressed—hunger, loud noises, soiled diaper—their brains flood with cortisol. When they are comforted—picked up and hugged—the stress hormone disappears.
The hormone can be measured in a baby’s saliva. Stressed babies grow into suspicious, frightened, aggressive children and adults.
Toxic stress is one way poverty regenerates. Poor mothers live in stressed homes, dealing with multiple challenges, often without a partner, and too often as teenagers.
A scholar named David Olds has shown a way to break this poverty cycle.
The Nurse-Family partnership sends nurses into these homes, from pregnancy to age two, giving low income mothers coping strategies. Random controlled studies show the visits to be stunningly effective. Each dollar invested gives back $5.70 in reduced costs later on.
It is critical to intervene early while the baby’s brain is developing, and it’s far less expensive to teach parents to support children than to maintain prisons years later.
Right now, there are enough funds to visit only 2-3 percent of needy families.
Let’s name chairs at Nursery Schools instead of universities.
f you want to help, here are a few organizations whose work on early childhood has impressed Kristof.
NURSE-FAMILY PARTNERSHIP is a proven home-visitation program that gives at-risk kids a shot at reaching the starting line. nursefamilypartnership.org
REACH OUT AND READ supports pediatricians who hand out books to low-income children during doctor visits, with instructions about bedtime reading. Careful studies show that the parents read to the children more often and the children end up with larger vocabularies — all for just $20 per child per year. reachoutandread.org
SPRINGBOARD COLLABORATIVE provides intensive summer school for disadvantaged children, so that a three-month loss in reading level turns into a 3.3-month gain. A donor can sponsor a child for a summer for $350.
SAVE THE CHILDREN provides home visitation, screening and literacy programs for young children. A sponsorship is $28 a month. savethechildren.org