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The first 1,000 days are critically important to a child’s development

Science shows that about 80% of a child’s brain foundation is formed within the first 1,000 days of life.

Smiling baby

Our state faces a crisis in early learning and childcare.

Science shows that about 80% of a child’s brain foundation is formed within the first 1,000 days of life. Research has also shown that investments in early childhood development produce an annual ROI of 7-10% by improving school and career achievement and reducing costs for remedial education, health care, and the criminal justice system.

Unfortunately, we see deep inequities in accessing the support to foster healthy brain development. 10,000 children of the 34,000 born each year in the seven-county metro region face significant challenges and risks from adverse childhood experiences.

“The lifeblood of brain health throughout the entire lifespan is influenced and depends on the foundations set in the first 1,000 days,” said Dr. Damien Fair, a cognitive neuroscientist and co-director of the Masonic Institute of the Developing Brain who worked with the Itasca Project group on highlighting areas of opportunities for improving early childhoods. “Our research tells us it is our most critical period of brain growth; thus, to maximize our children’s potential, strategic and urgent investments supporting brain health during this time of maturation are needed.”

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The Itasca Project sees supporting healthy early childhood development as one of our state’s greatest opportunities, which led to the launch of our First 1000 Days Taskforce in 2019.

Itasca’s First 1,000 Days Initiative

With 75% of mothers in our region in the workforce, access to affordable, quality childcare is a crucial part of enabling parents and caregivers to work and power our economy. Itasca’s examination found that the childcare market is broken:

  • The current cost of childcare is too great for many families, causing some parents to drop out of the workforce entirely. Minnesota is the fourth most expensive state for infant care, and the median family could spend up to 15 percent of their income on childcare – more than double what is considered “affordable.”
  • Existing childcare providers are unable to meet demand due to staffing shortages. According to The Center for Rural Policy and Development, a non-partisan think tank in Mankato, more than 4,000 licensed family childcare spaces closed in 2020.

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  • The childcare shortage has disproportionally impacted families where disparities in outcomes already exist, including low-income families, rural families, and communities of color. Across the state, at least 26% of residents live in what is considered a childcare desert.

Cassaundra Davis, a north Minneapolis preschool director with The Family Partnership, said extra funding from the state would make a huge difference in retaining quality workers.

“I have many people applying for positions at my preschool but when they learn a major retailer down the street is offering $16 or $17 an hour to work in a store rather than take care of precious, young children, many just don’t show up for the interview and take the job that’s easier and pays more,” said Davis.

It’s a start but more is needed

The Itasca Project understands that the challenges will not be solved by one sector. Employers can play a critical role in supporting children’s healthy development while retaining and attracting workers.  Many employers are stepping up by offering onsite childcare and guaranteed slots for employees.

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We hope the public sector will step up in partnership with us. Earlier this month, the Minnesota House passed two bills to make childcare more affordable for low-income Minnesotans. Those bills are a good start but will only serve as a bridge through midyear. State leaders can prioritize childcare and early childhood with increased, sustained funding in this year’s budget to:

As leaders in our community, we see the urgency and importance of acting now to provide all children with access to quality childcare and early learning. We must partner and invest together across sectors to create a great start for our smallest Minnesotans. Addressing these challenges and fixing the broken childcare market can unlock the full potential of our region and state for decades to come.

John Naylor is the CEO of Medica and chair of the Itasca Project. Dr. Jakub Tolar is dean of the University of Minnesota Medical School and head of the University of Minnesota Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain and co-chair of First 1000 Days Taskforce. Andrea Walsh is president and CEO of HealthPartners and co-chair of First 1000 Days Taskforce. Tim Welsh is vice chair of US Bank and co-chair of First 1000 Days Taskforce. The Itasca Project is a regional alliance of more than 70 cross sector leaders that addresses long-term economic competitiveness and expanding prosperity for all in the region.