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Early Experiences and Brain Development

Decades of neuroscientific and behavioral research has demonstrated that early experiences influence all future learning and greatly impact overall health. In the first few years of life, nerve cells in our brains make more than 700 connections per second, and these connections are created, reinforced or eliminated based on the stimulus we receive as infants. An animated illustration of the relationship between stimuli, brain development and well-being is presented in this brief video developed by Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child in collaboration with the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts.

Infants and young children exposed to positive, nurturing relationships and a variety of emotional, cognitive, social and language stimuli are more likely to succeed in school, to have better health as adults and to become positive contributors to society. Conversely, children who grow up in poverty, are exposed to trauma, or who live in environments of deprivation are at greater risk for poorer mental and physical health, worse cognitive outcomes and school performance, and are at increased risk for antisocial behaviors.

Despite the real and complex challenges to health and well-being facing many children today, strong multifaceted, cross-sector efforts exist to increase the chances that infants and young children have positive early experiences to support healthy brain development.

  • Tennessee’s Building Strong Brains initiative provides focused investments in research, program development and public policy change to mitigate the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) on Tennessee’s children. One grant recipient, Belmont University, is developing curricula to prepare future health care professionals to support heath for individuals impacted by trauma. Genesis CEO, Dr. Veronica Gunn, recently facilitated discussion and action planning at Belmont’s ACEs Stakeholder Summit for educators, policy makers and health services professionals.

  • Maryland is using a Medicaid 1115 waiver to pilot evidence-based home visiting for high-risk pregnant women and children up to two years. Pilot programs, which are scheduled to begin implementation July 1, 2018, will utilize one of two well-studied home visiting models, Healthy Families America or the Nurse Family Partnership.

  • New York recently launched a statewide cross-sector effort to improve outcomes for young Medicaid enrollees, called the “First 1,000 days on Medicaid” initiative. Recognizing that nearly 80% of brain growth occurs in the first 1,000 days of life, yet less than 10% of public investments in children are made in those first 1,000 days, a multi-sector stakeholder group identified 10 evidence-based strategies for improving child health and well-being.

Genesis Health Consulting has the clinical expertise to help your organization understand the complexities of healthy brain development, and experience facilitating change across multiple dimensions – health care, social services, health policy, healthcare payment and public health – to improve child health outcomes. For more information on how Genesis Health Consulting can help you achieve your goals, click here.

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