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This report examines more than 100 programs through which the federal government spends money on children and calculates the amount spent on children under three. These first time expenditure estimates provide a place to start in gauging the priority the nation places on investing in very young children and in comparing expenditure patterns to researchers’ findings about investments that work. For example, despite extensive child development research underscoring the importance of quality early care and education programs for infants and toddlers, especially those in poverty, just 7 percent of federal funding for children between birth and age 2 went toward these efforts in 2007.
Research suggests that investing in young children can help build a strong future workforce,
improve children’s educational success and health, and potentially reduce some of the social ills
that drain the nation’s resources and will. To have an informed conversation about future investments,
it is important to start from an understanding of the baseline: What investments does this nation
currently make in young children? Which programs and purposes are currently supported by federal
investments, and which are not?
The purpose of this report is to provide such
a baseline understanding and inform a national
conversation about how best to invest the country’s
resources, by examining federal expenditures
on infants and toddlers, defined as children
under age 3. We look at more than 100 programs
through which the federal government spends
money on children and calculate the amount
spent on this population. Because this is the first
year of this research, we cannot assess trends over
time, and we cannot estimate state resources,
only federal. Moreover, we cannot say from these
results anything about the success, efficiency, or
merit of a particular type of spending. Nor does
the level of spending on very young children
demonstrate how much help is needed. However,
these baseline estimates provide a place to start in
gauging the priority the nation places on investing
in very young children and in comparing the
expenditure patterns to researchers’ findings
about investments that work.
Experts make six compelling points about
the value of investing in young children:
- A child’s earliest years are pivotal to development.
During the first years of life, a child’s
brain grows substantially in size and in architecture.
An estimated 700 new neural connections
are created every second (Center on
the Developing Child 2008). These new
connections help form more complex brain
circuits that are paramount in the development
of vision, hearing, and language skills,
along with higher cognitive functioning.
Additionally, interactions with caregivers are
critical. Attachments very young children
form with caregivers early in life largely
shape their later relationships (Ainsworth
1985; Bowlby 1969; National Scientific
Council on the Developing Child 2004).
- Poverty and toxic stress can adversely affect
infant and toddler development. Extreme
poverty can weaken a child’s brain architecture
by inhibiting the development of neural
connections (Center on the Developing
Child 2008). Hart and Risley (2003) estimate
that by the age of 3 the language experiences
between children of higher and lower
socioeconomic status differ by 30 million
words, setting the stage for persistent
achievement gaps. Toxic stressors (e.g.,
recurrent child abuse or neglect, severe
maternal depression, parental substance
abuse, or family violence) can lead to persistent
elevations of stress hormones and altered
levels of key brain chemicals. These physiological
changes weaken the architecture and chemistry of the developing brain (Center
on the Developing Child 2007).
- Significant numbers of infants and toddlers
are vulnerable to poverty and toxic stress. In
2007, 5.4 million, or 43 percent, of the
nation’s infants and toddlers lived in lowincome
families (families with incomes
below 200 percent of the federal poverty
level), a percentage higher than most groups
of older children (Douglas-Hall and Chau
2008). Beyond poverty, other forms of toxic
stress can afflict the early development of
thousands of infants and toddlers. For example,
nearly one-third of the over 900,000
victims of child maltreatment in 2006 were
age 3 or younger (U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services [HHS] 2008b).
Additionally, as many as 40 to 60 percent of
low-income mothers of young children and
pregnant and parenting teens report depressive
symptoms (Knitzer, Theberge, and
(End of excerpt. The entire report is available in PDF format.)
Federal Expenditures on Infants and Toddlers in 2007 Key Facts
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