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Preventing Toxic Stress in Children

The early childhood years – from birth to age 5 – lay the foundation for later productivity, responsible citizenship, and sound physical and mental health. Poverty, abuse, neglect, and exposure to violence in early childhood can all lead to toxic stress, which may damage the architecture of the developing brain, weakening the foundation for future learning and health.

Cambridge – What if political leaders around the world could improve school achievement and job readiness, reduce crime, and extend healthy life expectancy – but the results would not be seen until after they left public office? Would they have the political courage to act now in the best long-term interest of their people? Or would they become mired in ineffective, poorly-funded attempts to obtain quick results, and then say it couldn’t be done?

Thanks to a remarkable convergence of new scientific knowledge about the developing brain, the human genome, and the effects of early experiences on later learning, behavior, and health, these are not hypothetical questions. We have the knowledge to secure our future by improving the life prospects of all our young children. What is needed now is political vision and leadership.

Scientists can now credibly say that the early childhood years – from birth to age 5 – lay the foundation for later economic productivity, responsible citizenship, and a lifetime of sound physical and mental health. Conversely, deep poverty, abuse, neglect, and exposure to violence in early childhood can all lead to toxic stress.

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