What Matters Most for Children: Influencing Inequality at the Start of Life

Preschool kids eating applesThe persistence of gaps in education, income, health, and a long list of other socioeconomic indicators suggests there is an urgent need to reduce inequality early in life. Science shows us what children must have, and what they need to be protected from, to promote their healthy development. Stable, responsive, nurturing relationships and rich learning experiences in the earliest years provide lifelong benefits for learning, behavior, and both physical and mental health.

This paper provides an overview of the science of early childhood and summarizes the disparities and the opportunity gaps stemming from inequalities. It also describes categories of programs, services, and policies for children birth to age 3 that might affect the extent of inequality and provide supportive early life experiences.