A child’s development during the critical early years has a powerful and lasting impact as they progress through school and adulthood. A November 2013 KIDS COUNT policy report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation suggests that children are falling behind at age 8, or third grade. Just 36 percent of third graders are scoring above average in reading, mathematics and science, while families living below 200 percent of the poverty line see just 50 percent of children with age-appropriate cognitive skills.
The report includes data from a longitudinal study that tracked 13,000 children in kindergarten in 1998-1999, detailing the progress they had made in key developmental measures by the third grade. Despite the slow cognitive growth, 56 percent were in good physical well-being, 70 percent were on track for social and emotional growth and 74 were percent at good levels of school engagement.
The policy report indicates that the lag in cognitive growth for third graders is even more troubling for minorities. Fourteen percent of African American children and 19 percent of Hispanic children are on track in cognitive development.
These key development milestones are crucial for children to achieve higher educational attainment, future economic stability and healthy development, the report says, but parents are finding it difficult with income as the biggest barrier to cognitive growth. Raising children in low-income families provides a much bigger challenge because parents often spend time away from children because they are juggling jobs or in transit.
With cost as a large barrier, the report concludes by outlining overall policy recommendations to support struggling families. With parents playing a large factor in a child’s development, supporting parents to help them effectively care and provide for their children is important. Moreover, with few families eligible for programs like Early Head Start, the report recommends increasing access to high-quality integrated programs targeting low-income children, and developing programs and data systems to address all aspects of children’s development to support their transition to elementary school.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation is a Baltimore-based organization dedicated to helping build better future for disadvantaged children of the United States.