Jonathan Cohn’s ‘The Two Year Window’

18 Dec

Moi has got plenty to say about hypocrites of the conservative persuasion, those who espouse family values, but don’t live up to them or who support corporate welfare while tossing out that old bromide that individuals must pull themselves up by their bootstraps even if they don’t have shoes.

Because of changes in family structure and the fact that many children are now being raised by single parents, who often lack the time or resources to care for them, we as a society must make children and education a priority, even in a time of lack. I know that many of the conservative persuasion will harp on about personal responsibility, yada, yada, yada. Moi promotes birth control and condoms, so don’t harp on that. Fact is children, didn’t ask to be born to any particular parent or set of parents.

Jonathan Cohn reports about an unprecedented experiment which occurred in Romanian orphanages in the New Republic article, The Two Year Window. There are very few experiments involving humans because of ethical considerations.

Nelson had traveled to Romania to take part in a cutting-edge experiment. It was ten years after the fall of the Communist dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu, whose scheme for increasing the country’s population through bans on birth control and abortion had filled state-run institutions with children their parents couldn’t support. Images from the orphanages had prompted an outpouring of international aid and a rush from parents around the world to adopt the children. But ten years later, the new government remained convinced that the institutions were a good idea—and was still warehousing at least 60,000 kids, some of them born after the old regime’s fall, in facilities where many received almost no meaningful human interaction. With backing from the MacArthur Foundation, and help from a sympathetic Romanian official, Nelson and colleagues from Harvard, Tulane, and the University of Maryland prevailed upon the government to allow them to remove some of the children from the orphanages and place them with foster families. Then, the researchers would observe how they fared over time in comparison with the children still in the orphanages. They would also track a third set of children, who were with their original parents, as a control group.

In the field of child development, this study—now known as the Bucharest Early Intervention Project—was nearly unprecedented. Most such research is performed on animals, because it would be unethical to expose human subjects to neglect or abuse. But here the investigators were taking a group of children out of danger. The orphanages, moreover, provided a sufficiently large sample of kids, all from the same place and all raised in the same miserable conditions. The only variable would be the removal from the institutions, allowing researchers to isolate the effects of neglect on the brain….

Drury, Nelson, and their collaborators are still learning about the orphans. But one upshot of their work is already clear. Childhood adversity can damage the brain as surely as inhaling toxic substances or absorbing a blow to the head can. And after the age of two, much of that damage can be difficult to repair, even for children who go on to receive the nurturing they were denied in their early years. This is a revelation with profound implication—and not just for the Romanian orphans.

APPROXIMATELY SEVEN MILLION American infants, toddlers, and preschoolers get care from somebody other than a relative, whether through organized day care centers or more informal arrangements, according to the Census Bureau. And much of that care is not very good. One widely cited study of child care in four states, by researchers in Colorado, found that only 8 percent of infant care centers were of “good” or “excellent” quality, while 40 percent were “poor.” The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development has found that three in four infant caregivers provide only minimal cognitive and language stimulation—and that more than half of young children in non-maternal care receive “only some” or “hardly any” positive caregiving. http://www.tnr.com/article/economy/magazine/97268/the-two-year-window?page=0,0&passthru=YzBlNDJmMmRkZTliNDgwZDY4MDhhYmIwMjYyYzhlMjg

Because the ranks of poor children are growing in the U.S., this study portends some grave challenges not only for particular children, but this society and this country. Adequate early learning opportunities and adequate early parenting is essential for proper development in children.

 

Michael A. Fletcher reported in the Washington Post article, Nearly one in six in poverty in the U.S.; children hit hard, Census says:

The economic turmoil has pummeled children, for whom the poverty rate last year — 22 percent — was at the highest level since 1993. The rate for black children climbed to nearly 40 percent, and more than a third of Hispanic children lived in poverty, the Census Bureau reported. The rate for white children was reported as above 12 percent.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/us-poverty-rate-hits-52-year-high-at-151-percent/2011/09/13/gIQApnMePK_story.html

Cohn recognizes that in a time of economic distress it is difficult to call for massive spending on parent support and early learning programs, but that is what he says the implications of the Romanian study are if early damage to poor children is to be avoided. A conference where MIT was a participant described the economic benefit of early childhood programs NPR has an audio debate about the MIT report

Legislators are correct in their prudence about the budget, but the question is whether they are being, as the saying goes, “penny wise and pound foolish.” So much of economic development and full employment is based on an educated and skilled population. Third world countries are undeveloped for many reasons including unsustainable debt, corruption, and being disadvantaged in the world system of trade. One of the primary reasons that third world countries are third world is the limited education opportunity for the majority of their population.

Politics has always been a tough business, the Ides of March is one example of how brutal politics can be. Many times those who serve do so under tough conditions, often with little thanks. Still it is time to recognize that there must be some investments made for the future and early childhood programs are an example of necessary investment. Just as there are those who reflex ably say no to school choice, there are those who just as reflex ably say no to investing in this country’s future.

Cohn’s article is a must read.

Resources:

The changing face of poverty
Millions of Americans live in poverty, more families are suffering and hunger is seen growing. (more)

Hard at work but can’t buy food
While the ranks of the working poor grow in number, should employers step up to stop the trend? (more)

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

7 Responses to “Jonathan Cohn’s ‘The Two Year Window’”

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