By Irwin Redlener
Sustainable development and long-term economic prosperity depend on smart, appropriate investments in the wellbeing of children. The keys to lifetime wellbeing start early in life, with families engaged in the health and development of their young children; the access of children to early education and quality health care; and the assurance of a safe, low-stress environment. The needs for health, nutrition, education, family support, and a safe environment and community continue through childhood into adolescence and young adulthood.
Around the world, and in the United States, far too many children and young people are growing up without these crucial supports in place. Instead of a healthful and supportive environment, these children confront poverty and persistent hunger, lack of access to appropriate health care, persistent high levels of stress, under-provisioned and under-performing schools, and the lack of supportive family and social networks. The results are often devastating for these children, and can lead to unprecedented social inequalities and lack of intergenerational mobility in the society at large.
Many low-income children also face the added risks and consequences of human-induced climate change and environmental degradation. Children are unusually vulnerable in the immediate aftermath of disasters, but particularly so during the extended recovery phase that inevitably follows large-scale, catastrophic events. A close follow-up of poor New Orleans children in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as well as of children across the coastline in four states affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill demonstrates a significant onset of physical and mental health issues in the years following these disasters. The study of child vulnerability and resilience in planning for, responding to, and recovering from mega-disasters is a key area of focus for Earth Institute’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness.
Because of the importance and complexity of these issues and the urgency of making sure that children are appropriately protected and nurtured, policies and programs need to support children and their physical, cognitive and emotional development. In our view, successful policies should aim to be:
- Holistic, addressing the range of nutrition, health, environmental, and cognitive supports to healthy development and effective learning;
- Evidence-based, drawing on the growing body of evidence regarding early-childhood development and education;
- Scalable, to be commensurate the society-wide scale of the challenges;
- Family-oriented, empowering parents to help their children’s development;
- Multi-stakeholder, drawing on governments, businesses, NGOs, and community-based organizations.
The Program on Child Well-Being and Resilience will serve as an academic center for Columbia University faculty and researchers, across various academic departments and schools, to support greater understanding of the issues, challenges, and opportunities involving children and youth. The program will benefit from an advisory board of individuals, experts and policy-makers from around New York City and across the nation.
Through research, dialogue, education and outreach, the PCWR will examine and highlight ways to overcome economic, educational, health, and other barriers facing children and create maximum opportunity for every childhood to be successful – and for every child to reach his or her full potential.
PCWR is based at the Earth Institute and directed by Irwin Redlener, MD, who also serves as director of EI’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness.