I remember watching “Kids Say The Darnest Things” with my mother and enjoying fits of laughter as young children had ‘serious’ conversations with Bill Cosby. The television show created a space for my mother and me to talk about anything, as the candor of young children gave me the will power to speak whatever was on my mind and my mother the opportunity prod me about homework. As a child, these hilarious conversations were a platform for me to connect with my mother. As an adult, I’ve seen some of the most critical issues facing young children struggle to receive the attention they deserve.
In 1971, (well before TV dates with mom) the National Association for the Education of Young Children founded The Week of the Young Child to focus public attention on the needs of young children and their families and to recognize the early childhood programs and services that meet those needs. Celebration of the 2014 Week of the Young Child warrants a look at how the country has improved the prospects of young children in recent decades. Sadly, the percentage of children living in poverty in the United States has been on the rise since 1970, with young children more likely to live in poverty than their older peers.
Research Ascend commissioned from Child Trends found that family households with young children under age 6 are more likely to live in poverty or to be low-income than those households with children under age 18. The research also showed that families headed by householders aged 18-24 are more likely to be poor or low-income compared to families headed by householders 25 and older, especially among single-mother families. We also know that child outcomes vary greatly by race, ethnicity, and geography.
Ages zero to five represent intense learning and growth periods for children. Those years can also provide a critical window to support the success of their parents. Thirty million parents or primary caregivers of young children function at or below basic literacy levels. Leveraging the power of early childhood education is a tested and promising strategy for addressing the needs of both generations – child and parent together. There is also strong evidence that positive school and community environments have a significant positive effect on pregnant and parenting teens.
All of this underscores the continued need to focus on young children, their education, and the families and communities that support their success. Success of young children, particularly those living in poverty or in low-income families, means success for all of us. Celebrity attention to young children amplifies the power that children have to change our world. Whitney Houston believed they are our future, and Bill Cosby knew they deserved a voice on primetime television. As we celebrate the 2014 Week of the Young Child, let’s continue to give voice to needs of young children, on and off the TV screen.
Photo: Josh Giovo