makeup, combined with children's previous experiences, affects their ongoing interactions with their environments during the early years and beyond.
Parents and other regular caregivers in children's lives are “active ingredients” of environmental influence during the early childhood period. Children grow and thrive in the context of close and dependable relationships that provide love and nurturance, security, responsive interaction, and encouragement for exploration. Without at least one such relationship, development is disrupted and the consequences can be severe and longlasting. If provided or restored, however, a sensitive caregiving relationship can foster remarkable recovery.
Children's early development depends on the health and well-being of their parents. Yet the daily experiences of a significant number of young children are burdened by untreated mental health problems in their families, recurrent exposure to family violence, and the psychological fallout from living in a demoralized and violent neighborhood. Circumstances characterized by multiple, interrelated, and cumulative risk factors impose particularly heavy developmental burdens during early childhood and are the most likely to incur substantial costs to both the individual and society in the future.
The time is long overdue for society to recognize the significance of out-of-home relationships for young children, to esteem those who care for them when their parents are not available, and to compensate them adequately as a means of supporting stability and quality in these relationships for all children, regardless of their family 's income and irrespective of their developmental needs.
Early experiences clearly affect the development of the brain. Yet the recent focus on “zero to three” as a critical or particularly sensitive period is highly problematic, not because this isn't an important period for the developing brain, but simply because the disproportionate attention to the period from birth to 3 years begins too late and ends too soon.
Abundant evidence from the behavioral and the neurobiological sciences has documented a wide range of environmental threats to the developing central nervous system. These include poor nutrition, specific infections, environmental toxins, and drug exposures, beginning early in the prenatal period, as well as chronic stress stemming from abuse or neglect throughout the early childhood years and beyond.