Reducing Disparities Beginning in Early Childhood
Research shows that many disparities in health and well-being are rooted in early childhood. These disparities reflect gaps in access to services, unequal treatment, adverse congenital health conditions, and exposures in the early years linked to elevated community and family risks. Early health risks and conditions can have long-range implications for physical, emotional, and intellectual development as well as health. Their contribution to disparities in health status, disabilities, and educational achievement is well documented. But many risks can be addressed in the early years, starting with quality prenatal care and interventions in the earliest stages of life. Thus, literally, reducing disparities begins with babies. Risks for disparate outcomes disproportionately affect young children, low-income children, and minority children. Poverty brings risks for children of all races; however, racial/ethnic status is an independent risk factor. Young children are more likely than older children to live in families without economic security. Of the 10.2 million U.S. children ages birth through 5 years, 42 percent lived in low-income families (with income below twice the federal poverty level—FPL) and 20 percent lived in poor families (income below 100 percent of FPL) in 2005. Minority young children also are overrepresented among the 2.2 million U.S. children ages birth through 5 who live in extremely poor families (income below 50 percent of FPL). The younger the child, the more harmful poverty is to developmental outcomes. Below we highlight patterns of disparities in both risks and outcomes, and access and treatment.
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