as a source of either support and adaptation or risk and dysfunction; (3) the powerful capabilities, complex emotions, and essential social skills that develop during the earliest years of life, and (4) the capacity to increase the odds of favorable developmental outcomes through planned interventions.

Second, the capacity to use this knowledge constructively has been constrained by a number of dramatic transformations in the social and economic circumstances under which families with young children are living in the United States: (1) marked changes in the nature, schedule, and amount of work engaged in by parents of young children and greater difficulty balancing workplace and family responsibilities for parents at all income levels; (2) continuing high levels of economic hardship among families, despite overall increases in maternal education, increased rates of parent employment, and a strong economy; (3) increasing cultural diversity and the persistence of significant racial and ethnic disparities in health and developmental outcomes; 4) growing numbers of young children spending considerable time in child care settings of highly variable quality, starting in infancy; and (5) greater awareness of the negative effects of stress on young children, particularly as a result of serious family problems and adverse community conditions that are detrimental to child well-being. While any given child may be affected by only one or two of these changes, their cumulative effects on the 24 million infants, toddlers, and preschoolers who are now growing up in the United States warrant dedicated attention and thoughtful response.

This convergence of advancing knowledge and changing circumstances calls for a fundamental reexamination of the nation's responses to the needs of young children and their families, many of which were formulated several decades ago and revised only incrementally since then. It demands that scientists, policy makers, business and community leaders, practitioners, and parents work together to identify and sustain policies and practices that are effective, generate new strategies to replace those that are not achieving their objectives, and consider new approaches to address new goals as needed. It is the strong conviction of this committee that the nation has not capitalized sufficiently on the knowledge that has been gained from nearly half a century of considerable public investment in research on children from birth to age 5. In many respects, we have barely begun to use our growing research capabilities to help children and families negotiate the changing demands and possibilities of life in the 21st century.

THE COMMITTEE'S CHARGE

The Committee on Integrating the Science of Early Childhood Development was established by the Board on Children, Youth, and Families of the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine to update scien-



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement