Early Head Start Sample Op-Ed
Use the following sample op-ed to raise awareness of Early Head Start through the media. Be sure to personalize the text and make it relevant to your community in order to help policymakers Think Babies!
Each and every baby born in [STATE] represents infinite potential. In the first three years, a child’s brain grows faster than at any later point in life, forming more than a million connections each second that lay the foundation for all later development and learning. But the story of babies in our state is unfortunately one of potential limited. Babies are more likely to be poor than any other age group, living in families without enough income to meet basic needs. Food insecurity, unstable housing, or environmental chaos and violence pervade their lives, creating chronic and unrelenting stress that undermines development.
The stress of poverty can last a lifetime. Children who start out in poverty are more likely to fall behind in their language development, lag behind in later reading proficiency, and experience learning disabilities and developmental delays. As adults, they are more likely to have reduced earnings capacity and hours worked, and increased likelihood of obesity and other poor health outcomes as adults.
Fortunately, we know what babies need to ameliorate the impacts of poverty and set them on a path to success: Early Head Start.
[INSERT A SIMILAR LOCAL EXAMPLE THAT ILLUSTRATES THE CHALLENGES FAMILIES FACE IN PREGNANCY OR WITH INFANTS AND TODDLERS AND HOW EARLY HEAD START HELPED]
When Maya Ramirez was born ten weeks early, her parents, Maria and Sean, fell in love at the first sight of her, but they were worried about her future. They were new to the community, Maya was their first baby and their family was far away. They had many questions about how to parent a baby, and were really unsure about how to care for one with significant medical needs. After two weeks in the hospital, Maya was discharged with a heart monitor, and a social worker recommended Early Head Start. Maria called the next day, explaining that she had to quit her job as a server to stay home with Maya and take her to medical appointments. Immediately, the recruiter helped her access groceries and help with the electric bill. Three weeks later, Joan, an Early Head Start home visitor, started coming to Maya’s home every week. While Joan referred Maya for a developmental screening, Maya was doing really well, and not eligible for early intervention services. But the family worried that she could fall behind quickly. So, every week, Joan and Sean and Maria talked about the things that Maya was learning, and ways that Sean and Maria could build on those skills over the week. Today, at two years old, her heart monitor packed away long ago, Maya is healthy, strong, and funny. Maria and Sean credit those visits with Joan for keeping her development on track, despite a rocky start: “She helped us make sure that Maya was doing everything she needed to, and that we could help Maya learn new skills!” Maria says.
Early Head Start is a federally funded program that provides comprehensive services to under resourced infants, toddlers and their families, as well as pregnant women across the United States. Communities tailor the program to offer high-quality infant-toddler child care and/or home visiting services to meet the needs of local children and families. In addition, in order to address the complex risks of poverty, Early Head Start programs provide a full range of services to enrolled children and families, including health and mental health, nutrition, and family support services. And Early Head Start pays off. Children in Early Head Start show positive impacts, including enhanced cognitive and language skills and decreased aggressive behaviors. Families are more emotionally supportive, provided more support for children’s language development and learning, and were less likely to use harsh discipline strategies such as spanking. Enrollment in Early Head Start also promoted parents’ participation in education and training as well as their employment.
But [INSERT NAME OF CHILD FROM EARLIER EXAMPLE] Maya was lucky to be enrolled. Nationwide, only 8% of eligible children across the country have access to Early Head Start. That is not good enough for our nation’s babies to reach their full potential – or our future. Now is the time for Congress to increase access to Early Head Start, a program that helps where poverty hurts. Doing so will ensure that all babies and toddlers have the early experiences they need to thrive.
[AUTHOR’S NAME, TITLE AND ORGANIZATION (IF APPLICABLE)]