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Suggested Citation:"4 Final Remarks." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 2012. From Neurons to Neighborhoods: An Update: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13119.
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4

Final Remarks

From Neurons to Neighborhoods was grounded in four overarching themes:

1. All children are born wired for feelings and ready to learn.

2. Early environments matter and nurturing relationships are essential.

3. Society is changing and the needs of young children are not being addressed.

4. Interactions among early childhood science, policy, and practice are problematic and demand dramatic rethinking.

The first two themes have held up well over the past decade, said Jack Shonkoff in his concluding remarks at the workshop. Researchers have learned much more about development of the brain in early childhood, and this understanding will continue to expand in the future. They also have achieved a much deeper and richer understanding of the importance of early environments and nurturing relationships. “Two of the four themes have stood the test of time,” Shonkoff said.

The other two themes have become even more urgent in the years since From Neurons to Neighborhoods appeared. These were the two themes that put the scientific principles in a social context, and society has been changing even faster than it has in the past. Shonkoff cited one alarming example: the rise of child poverty over the past decade, with bleak prospects for significant improvement in the near future. Many people have lost their jobs in the recent recession and will not get them back for a long time. And high school graduation rates are still only about 50 percent in most inner

Suggested Citation:"4 Final Remarks." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 2012. From Neurons to Neighborhoods: An Update: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13119.
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cities, and a high school diploma alone is no longer a ticket to a good job in U.S. society.

Shonkoff said that he would now change the wording of the fourth theme slightly. Rather than saying that interactions among early childhood science, policy, and practice are problematic, he would now say that they are complex. That is to say, these dynamics are somewhat less problematic than they were in the past because there is much more interaction among the three sectors. However, these increased interactions have demonstrated how complex both the problems and the potential solutions really are.

Science has informed policy and practice in invigorating and productive ways. But the flow of information has been largely one way, in that policy and practice have not much influenced the kinds of questions researchers are asking. The challenge for the scientific community is to respond to new ideas that are driving progress in the field. How exactly does experience affect health or learning? What are the features of effective interventions? The policy community will be much more willing to invest in early childhood interventions if it understands why a certain program produces a positive outcome.

The early childhood development community can be simultaneously proud and dissatisfied with how far it has come, Shonkoff said. Science, policy, and practice have all made great advances in the past 10 years. The remaining challenge is to continue to translate new knowledge into new ideas that will dramatically improve the lives of children and their prospects for the future.

Suggested Citation:"4 Final Remarks." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 2012. From Neurons to Neighborhoods: An Update: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13119.
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Page 43
Suggested Citation:"4 Final Remarks." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 2012. From Neurons to Neighborhoods: An Update: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13119.
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Page 44
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: An Update: Workshop Summary is based on the original study From Neurons to Neighborhoods: Early Childhood Development, which released in October of 2000. From the time of the original publication's release, much has occurred to cause a fundamental reexamination of the nation's response to the needs of young children and families, drawing upon a wealth of scientific knowledge that has emerged in recent decades. The study shaped policy agendas and intervention efforts at national, state, and local levels. It captured a gratifying level of attention in the United States and around the world and has helped to foster a highly dynamic and increasingly visible science of early childhood development. It contributed to a growing public understanding of the foundational importance of the early childhood years and has stimulated a global conversation about the unmet needs of millions of young children.

Ten years later, the Board on Children, Youth, and Families of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the National Research Council (NRC) held a 2-day workshop in Washington, D.C., to review and commemorate a decade of advances related to the mission of the report. The workshop began with a series of highly interactive breakout sessions in which experts in early childhood development examined the four organizing themes of the original report and identified both measurable progress and remaining challenges. The second day of the workshop, speakers chosen for their diverse perspectives on early childhood research and policy issues discussed how to build on the accomplishments of the past decade and to launch the next era in early childhood science, policy, and practice.

From Neurons to Neighborhoods: An Update: Workshop Summary emphasizes that there is a single, integrated science of early childhood development despite the extent to which it is carved up and divided among a diversity of professional disciplines, policy sectors, and service delivery systems. While much work still remains to be done to reach this goal, the 2010 workshop demonstrated both the promise of this integrated science and the rich diversity of contributions to that science.

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