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Report: First Eight Years Crucial

After eight may be too late. A report released Monday shows that the first eight years of children’s lives affect their success throughout their lifetimes. The report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, in partnership with Children Now, shows that income-based disparities in development begin among infants as young as 18 months, and continue to widen as they grow older.

According to Ted Lempert, the president of Children Now, the achievement gap is basically set before kids even start kindergarten.

“If kids are starting kindergarten behind, and if they’re not reading at grade level by third grade – sure there’s exceptions – but most of those kids are not on a track to graduating high school, going to college and having a secure job,” he warned.

Nearly half of California’s youngest children now live in low-income households. The report says investing in early childhood development would help break the cycle of poverty in California.

Lempert said that by age four, children in very low-income families have heard only two words for every seven words that a higher-income child has heard.

“So what that really points to is that if every child’s going to have an equal opportunity we need to make sure that, especially, kids from low-income families are having access to other development opportunities, you know, in those early years.”

Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and advocacy at the the Casey Foundation, said that allowing parents to increase their involvement in their children’s lives can help support early-childhood education efforts at home.

“Having the flexible work schedule – it’s so important,” she declared. “Also, things like providing paid sick leave for parents could make a huge, huge difference.”

The report calls on California to invest more in quality, cost-effective early childhood development programs to help break the cycles of poverty and narrow the achievement gap.

The report is at AECF.org.