Do you know what lies ahead in South Dakota? The clearest way to envision what the future holds is to take a look at our children. They tell an important story of what it is currently like to be a young child in South Dakota and the resources that can change the future course of life for the many children who are not getting off to the best start.
According to Kids Count data, South Dakota ranks 45th out of 50 states in children’s health. One third of our children of preschool age have experienced childhood trauma. Instances of that trauma include abuse, neglect, food insecurity, housing issues and poverty.
Early childhood is the single most prolific and crucial period of growth for children. Neuroscientists have very convincing evidence that our brains are highly developed by age five. During this time the basic architecture of our brain is constructed through the ongoing process that begins at conception and continues into adulthood.
For a child in a stressful environment the brain doesn’t develop properly. Trauma can disrupt the development of the brain and increase the risk of learning difficulties, behavior problems and stress related diseases that can last into adulthood.
Without supporting adult relationships, this stress and adversity can be toxic for the developing brain of a young child. By the time these children reach kindergarten, too many are far behind in vocabulary development and math skills. Many also face challenges in learning to control impulses and behavior that enables them to get along with their peers and teachers.
Research has shown that providing safe, stable and nurturing relationships early in life can buffer the damaging effects of childhood adversity. High quality early childhood programs can help these children prepare for kindergarten and support parents in their role as their child’s first teacher.
Quality childhood programs can support social and emotional development, which includes building self-confidence and positive relationships. This in turn will instill in children the motivation, persistence and other life skills necessary to be inventive, flexible and functional adults and also be resilient in the face of life’s challenges.
The role of a quality preschool is to strengthen these core life skills. South Dakota needs a state-funded, voluntary preschool program.
You may have heard someone say, “What is wrong with that child?” Rather, we should be saying, “What happened to that child?”
The future of our state depends on how well we take care of our children.
It is imperative that each of us contact our state senator and representatives and encourage them to help our children.
Former State Legislator
Current Stakeholder Early Learner South Dakota