What is the single most effective thing we can do to reverse the negative trends that threaten our community's future?
Focus on the social and emotional well-being of our youngest citizens age 0-5 and their families.
Research shows that positive nurturing and learning experiences are vital for the future success of children. That’s because the neural circuits in the brain, which create the foundation for learning, behavior and health, are at their most receptive during infancy and early childhood. By the time a child is seven years old, these circuits have established patterns of intellectual and emotional responses that are already resistant to change.
Factors such as poverty, parental neglect and depression, abuse, poor nutrition, and living in a high-stress environment can have toxic effects on young brains, leading to lifelong emotional and behavioral problems.
Over the last decade, the Monadnock Region of southwest NH has lost a significant number of high-paying jobs – and many of the jobs that are available here do not pay a livable wage. High school graduation rates are not where they should be and proficiency in math and reading is low. Homelessness is growing and opioid addiction rates are skyrocketing. Teen pregnancy rates and single-parent households in the Monadnock region are higher than the state average. So is child abuse and neglect.
In a stable, nurturing environment, surrounded by attentive parents and caregivers, children are better able to acquire the social, behavioral, cognitive and language skills that are so vital for future success and protect their brains against toxic stress. Such children are far more likely to grow into healthy, happy responsible adults. They’re more likely to succeed in school and on the job – and to raise healthy families of their own.
In other words, if we want to be surrounded by great neighbors in a great community 20 years from now, we need to lay the foundation of social and emotional well-being today. It’s time to “Start small. Think big.”
That's the focus of Impact Monadnock's Early Childhood Development Initiative, an organization that came into being when a community-wide needs assessment found child welfare, economic opportunity and educational attainment were the Monadnock Region's most persistent social challenges. Using a Collective Impact approach, Impact Monadnock rallied the community around the single most compelling root cause of these challenges: a lack of investment in the well-being of young children.
Impact Monadnock works with a rich and varied array of partners, from parents, pediatricians and business people to social service agencies, law enforcement, educators, behavioral health experts and policymakers. Its Collective Impact approach means these partners are active participants in the work, from helping to develop the Early Childhood Initiative's strategic plan to being invested stakeholders on implementation teams built to roll out strategies in the community. Its goal is not to compete with organizations already involved in helping children but to embrace their expertise and experience and, in this way, forge sustainable and consensus-based relationships with one goal: helping our children thrive.