Editor’s Note: The Early Learning Nation Studio recently attended the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s annual conference where we spoke with early learning researchers, policymakers, and practitioners. The full collection of video conversations can be found here.
It’s the not-so-secret secret: Higher rates of poverty occur for U.S. children in rural communities rather than urban ones. Yet delivering the benefits and tools of brain science to these areas is difficult in terms of cost, location, infrastructure. As Senior Specialist Lindsey Lockman Dougherty, Save the Children – in partnership with the Vroom Initiative – is doing something about that.
Chris Riback: Lindsey, welcome to the studio.
Lindsey Lockman Dougherty: Thank you.
Chris Riback: Thank you for coming by.
Lindsey Lockman Dougherty: Thank you for having me.
Chris Riback: What is brain science, and how does Save the Children go about sharing that information with various communities, particularly rural communities?
Lindsey Lockman Dougherty: Brain science is the information we have now to really understand some of the common ways we know children develop, child development, how it occurs, relationship of parents. Brain science is that ability to really see the mechanisms, the biology, the way this is happening and the direct impacts of life experiences, relationships on children’s development. Save the Children, it’s been such a privilege to be able to share brain science with our community members and really for them to see the critical development that happens in early childhood development. Prenatal through those earliest years and the role that every adult plays in the life of a child. Whether it’s direct that they interact with that child or whether it’s they’re that kind of larger support system community around the family and really impacting the development of that child’s brain.
Chris Riback: Why the focus on rural communities?
Lindsey Lockman Dougherty: Save the Children has had a commitment to rural communities. We work internationally, looking for the places, the opportunities to really meet families, communities, and to really be promoting healthy child development. In the United States I think we recognize the opportunity we have to partner in rural communities recognizing the higher rates of poverty that occur for children in rural settings, that young children are the most at risk to experience some of those negative impacts that poverty has on health, on education outcomes. So we really see it as such an opportunity to take a national program, resources, partnerships, and to be directing it into communities that often don’t have access to the same level of information, resources, efforts that are really designed to be promoted within their communities.
Chris Riback: It’s a real cliché, isn’t it, that poverty is an urban problem-
Lindsey Lockman Dougherty: Absolutely.
Chris Riback: And not a rural problem. In fact, one of the statistics I think from your site that I got, in 41 of America’s 47 States with rural designated areas, rural child poverty is higher than in urban areas. Why does that message not get out – or does it?
Lindsey Lockman Dougherty: I think messages around those effects of poverty on child development, on families, the sources of adverse childhood experiences, of toxic stress, I think that message is common. That it is those universal experiences that families are happening. I think the rates at which it’s happening in rural communities is often population size. By the definition of rural communities you have fewer individuals in those communities and so I think there’s often not the same level of organizations, initiatives, efforts that are really focused because of how dispersed those families then can often be geographically hidden. They’re in communities-
Chris Riback: Hard to get to.
Lindsey Lockman Dougherty: That you don’t drive through necessarily. You don’t happen to visit. Where in urban settings it’s often a block to one block you see the disparity. In rural settings you might have to drive 60 miles.
Chris Riback: Tell me about your work with Vroom. How do you leverage it to share brain science in our rural communities and to increase community awareness and engagement around brain development?
Lindsey Lockman Dougherty: Save the Children has partnered with the Bezos Family Foundation, the Vroom Initiative and for us it has been such a critical resource in these efforts. As I mentioned, so we are hiring locally, we’re building capacity and we’re engaging folks that might not have formal education in early childhood. They might not have backgrounds or degrees in that development, but what Vroom has provided is kind of that initiative, that platform to come together and say, “We all have a stake in this. We all have a role that we play,” and by taking brain science and making it really actionable, easy, fun and embedded in everyday routines, it’s not something that a family feels like I don’t have the resource to buy that new toy. I don’t have the capacity to purchase a curriculum in a center.
Lindsey Lockman Dougherty: Vroom provides here’s the activity and here’s the brainy background. Here’s that science that’s in easily understood language and it makes it very comfortable for then our early childhood teams to go out and to speak with the pharmacist and say, “This is what child development is all about. Here’s a very simple activity families can do while they’re waiting in line and here’s how you can empower every family that’s coming through to recognize themselves as a brain builder and the work that they’re doing.”
Lindsey Lockman Dougherty: So it’s really provided this simple, easy resource to be able to build those relationships and I think a lot of our early childhood teams might not have had the comfort to approach a law enforcement officer, or to approach a business owner and to be able to articulate why should they care about early childhood and what can they do about it? What action can they take? It makes it so simple to say, “You’re a laundromat. There’s activities families can be doing while they’re folding laundry, while they are having conversations in that setting that are going to dramatically impact child development outcomes,” and that people get really empowered by that resource.
Chris Riback: And to bring it home, and the opportunity and the impact that you can have, I mean some of these statistics around how much poverty, the negative impact that poverty can make and how it can extend the opportunity gap and the inequality gap as it goes on. Four year olds from low income families are often 18 months developmentally behind their peers. Disadvantaged children who don’t participate in high quality early education programs, 50% more likely to be placed in special ed, 25% more likely to drop out of school, 60% more likely to never attend college, 70% more likely to be arrested for violent crime. The list goes on. Early intervention matters, doesn’t it?
Lindsey Lockman Dougherty: Absolutely, and I think what brain science shows us is yes, adverse experiences have a cumulative negative impact on biology, on development, on outcomes, but that critical role of the caring, loving adult in a child’s life, those protective factors that can surround a child and really through relationships build resiliency I think is incredibly powerful. So we come into communities where members, they know their risks, they know what life looks like in their communities, they know the challenges they’re facing that are impacting them, their children, but they also get very empowered knowing that they can be that loving, caring adult. They can be that buffering protective factor and that they can see really positive outcomes. That they’re trends, that the odds are stacked against them, but it’s not final.
Chris Riback: It’s not final. It’s not written and if you make the difference, particularly early on, you can rewrite the story.
Lindsey Lockman Dougherty: Yes.
Chris Riback: Lindsey, thank you. Thank you for coming by the studio. Thank you for the work that you do.
Lindsey Lockman Dougherty: Thank you for this opportunity.