Maternal and Child Health

Early Brain Development

Early exposure to adverse experiences and stressors, such as poverty, unstable home environments, violence, and a lack of access to quality early education, can negatively affect a child’s development and long-term health and well-being. These experiences, especially within the first three years of life, transform the architecture of the developing brain and have lifelong impacts on a child’s cognitive and emotional development.

The impacts of these early experiences are not set in stone, however. Tested policy approaches, such as evidence-based home visiting and maternal depression screening, can buffer the effects of adverse experiences and help shape the social environments in which children grow up and build a strong foundation for their health and wellness.

Experts agree that coordinated approach to early childhood can promote safe, stable, and responsive relationships and homes. States are adopting a wide array of approaches and interventions aimed at coordinating early childhood systems, investments, and data to address the health, social, environmental, and economic conditions that affect a child’s developmental trajectory. State and territorial health leaders can play a critical and multifaceted leadership role by engaging public and private stakeholders to align efforts and resources in pursuit of a common, state-defined goal and vision.

Making the Case for Early Childhood Brain Development

Public Health Review Podcast Series

ASTHO's podcast, Public Health Review, has several episodes that touch on the subject of early brain development. A few of these episodes are listed below.

"Making the Case for Early Childhood Brain Development" podcast traces early brain development science and practice, from cutting-edge research to implications for population health and implementation at the state level. In this episode, Ami Klin discusses early detection of developmental disabilities as a strategy to improve access to early care and treatment. John Wiesman shares Washington state’s success story in supporting healthy early brain development through collective impact and cross-sector collaboration.

In "Looking Upstream: The Impact of Preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences" Judy Cameron, a psychiatry professor at the University of Pittsburgh, discusses her research on how early life experiences shape brain development and brain plasticity. John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services and a pediatrician by training, describes how his agency is taking action to address the challenges that ACEs pose to children and families across the state. Finally, David Lakey, chief medical officer at The University of Texas System, gives an overview of an integrated data system that maps infant maltreatment in Texas, as well as a predictive model that uses geomapping and hotspots to target prevention efforts.

Early Brain Development Technical Assistance Framework

ASTHO’s Early Brain Development Technical Assistance Framework contains evidence-based resources and tools for state and territorial health officials, agency staff members, and other key partners to use for the development and implementation of evidence-based approaches for healthy early brain development. Resources provided include research reports, state online resources and program descriptions, state case studies, and how-to implementation guidance.

ASTHOBrief: Breastfeeding for Healthy Early Brain Development

Breastfeeding for Healthy Early Brain Development This brief explores the linkages between breastfeeding and early brain development. It discusses how home visiting programs provide breastfeeding support, foster healthy early brain development, and improve overall child health and well-being. Finally, the brief explores why state and territorial health agencies should invest in home visiting programs and the positive impact that this investment will have.

Policy Options for Promoting Early Brain Development: A Strategic Guide for State Health Leaders

Early Brain Development Strategic Guide State and territorial health leaders can use ASTHO’s Early Brain Development Strategic Guide to consider and translate early brain development science into evidence-based policies and practices that promote and protect brain health and optimal development. The Strategic Guide identifies four evidence-informed pathways for promoting optimal development: 1) promote positive and responsive caregiving relationships, 2) reduce sources of stress and identify risks early, 3) develop an early childhood infrastructure that supports healthy development, and 4) improve outcomes measurement and evaluation to support policy decisions.

Early Brain Development Self-Assessment Tool

Early Brain Development Self-Assessment Tool Cover Image State and territorial public health leaders, staff, and partners may use ASTHO’s Early Brain Development Self-Assessment Tool to assess the overall policy and programmatic landscape relating to early brain development in their jurisdiction. This assessment tool is designed for a wide audience and lays out numerous public policy options and approaches that states and territories can take to support healthy early brain development.


Early Brain Development Approaches Public Health Leaders Can Use to Make a Difference Infographic      Early Brain Development Promising Pathways for Public Health Leaders Infographic

AAP Early Brain and Child Development (EBCD) Education and Training Modules

ASTHO supported the AAP to update and develop early brain and child development education and training modules. A workgroup of pediatricians and public health professionals revised five modules to include information and resources on early brain development, toxic stress, ACEs, parenting and how to be an advocate in your community. A sixth module was specifically developed to focus on the role of public health professionals.

Case Studies

Contracting for Change: Connecticut’s Office of Early Childhood Incorporates Payment Incentives for Early Childhood Outcomes in MIECHV Contracts
This case study describes how Connecticut’s Maternal and Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting Outcomes Rate Card Pilot Initiative incorporates payment incentives into early childhood contracts to generate two-generational impacts for families, communities, and government. 

Reaching Children and Families Where They Are: Georgia’s Approach for Integrating Language Nutrition Coaching into WIC, Nursing, and Other Key Workforce Practices
This case study follows Georgia’s implementation of Talk With Me Baby, a cross-sector partnership to ensure that every child in Georgia receives the language nutrition that they need for healthy brain development and lifelong success. 

Engaging Partners to Improve Early Childhood Mental Health in Massachusetts
This case study analyses how Massachusetts has integrated social and emotional wellness into the pediatric medical home to better identify and address child developmental and health concerns.

Missouri’s WIC Developmental Milestones Program: Promoting Early Identification and Intervention for Developmental Delays through Partnerships with Local WIC Agencies
This case study looks at how Missouri’s WIC Developmental Milestones Program incorporates developmental checklists and education into WIC procedures to allow for early identification and intervention for children with developmental delays or disabilities. 

Texas Early Childhood Systems Integration Group: Engaging State Leaders to Capture Early Childhood Collective Investments and Impacts
This case study assesses Texas’ Early Childhood Systems Integration Group and its process for addressing issues and opportunities related to service delivery, coordination and broader systems that impact the development and well-being of young children and their families.

Opportunities in Medicaid to Promote 2-Generational Outcomes and Early Brain Development: Colorado’s Approach
This case study looks at the role that Medicaid policies can have in promoting healthy development across the life course, and how Colorado assesses potential Medicaid policies by looking at them from the lens of how they will promote early brain development.

One Approach to Screening for Adverse Childhood Experiences in Delaware
Delaware used federal funds to focus on early brain development and, specifically, on mitigating the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and toxic stress among families with young children.

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