Relax: Principles to Reduce Childhood Can Help Shape Public Policy

Today we complete our review of the Harvard University Center on the Developing Child report “Three Principles to Improve Outcomes for Children and Families” and the important question of how the science that drives early childhood learning can also help drive our public policy.

The three principles outlined in the report include:

  1. Support responsive relationships for children and adults.
  2. Strengthen core life skills.
  3. Reduce sources of stress in the lives of children and families.

Principle 3: Reduce sources of stress in the lives of children and families

Stress, of course, is a part of life – even in childhood.

However, the authors note that “the unremitting, severe stress that is a defining feature of life for millions of children and families experiencing deep poverty, community violence, substance abuse, and/or mental illness can cause long-lasting problems for children and the adults who care for them.”

How does this get applied to smart policymaking?

“When parents can meet their families’ essential needs, teachers and caseworkers have effective training and manageable class sizes/caseloads, and policies and programs are structured and delivered in ways that reduce stress rather than amplify it, families are better able to take advantage of community services that support healthy child development.”

Here are ways the authors suggest policymakers can apply this principle to policy:

  • “Reduce barriers to families accessing basic supports, such as nutritious food, safe shelter, medical care, and mental health services, with special attention to the needs of children during periods of severe hardship or homelessness.”
  • “Establish simplified, streamlined rules for eligibility determination and re-certification for benefits and services, while minimizing punitive regulations that add stress to already stressful situations.”
  • “Provide consistent, adequate funding to prevent unexpected loss of services, which is a source of stress to both service providers and families, in order to offer stability that enables adults to focus on responsive caregiving.”

Finally, the authors explain ways to put these design principles into action: “Policymakers, system leaders, and practitioners can apply these three design principles in several ways.”

These include:

  • As a subject of inquiry about current policies and operations.
  • As a set of tests applied to proposed changesin policy or system operations.
  • As an organizing framework for developing new policies or program strategies.

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