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Support Early Healthy Development

While every child is unique, young children share some basic needs that are important to ensure healthy development. These developmental needs include having the benefit of the constant care and support of the adults in their lives as well as high-quality nutrition, medical and dental care, plentiful opportunities to learn and socialize, secure emotional attachment to a caregiver and safety and stability in their homes, schools and communities. When these crucial needs are met, young children thrive; however, when these needs are unattended children can face serious obstacles to their developmental health.

Young children whose developmental needs are unsupported are at risk for poor health and well-being outcomes as they grow and transition into adults. Delays in a child’s early development put them at a disadvantage when they begin school, and by third grade the opportunity gaps between children with differing levels of developmental health become increasingly entrenched. The gap continues to widen as children grow. By the end of high school, some young people face obstacles that seem almost insurmountable in achieving their educational and life goals.

In a society with growing equity gaps marked by vast differences in income, access to health care, neighborhood safety and educational opportunity, effective policy can support increased, and more equitable, access to the tools parents and caregivers need to promote their children’s developmental health and well-being. It is important to support the role of family for young children by empowering parents and caregivers to meet their children’s needs through effective support services that strengthen the family as a whole and ensure that all children get a healthy start in life. 


Barbara Gebhard, assistant director of Public Policy at ZERO TO THREE and Vicky Marchand contributed to this report.


Developmental health is a term used to refer to the full range of health outcomes related to children’s well-being as they grow, including physical, social –emotional, cognitive abilities/skills and educational attainment. 


The KIDS COUNT policy report, The First Eight Years: Giving Kids a Foundation for Lifetime Success, details how a child’s early development from birth through age 8 is essential to making an effective transition into elementary school and for long-term academic achievement.


Read CSSP’s companion report on policies supporting early healthy development.