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Addressing community, family risks key to helping children succeed


May 18, 2011
WHITEFIELD — The importance of investing in early childhood development was the focus of an all day conference of educators, health providers, parents and community members on Friday at the Mountain View Grand in Whitefield. The meeting included a keynote address by Dr. Hiro Yoshikawa, of Harvard University, a well-known author and researcher, and the two leaders of Minnesota's Invest Early Project, which has instituted several successful programs in an area similar to Cos County.

"Poverty, parental stress and issues like substance abuse contribute to the formation of a child's brain in their early years," said Kathy McDowell, Project Manager for the Coos Family Support Project. "Those conditions create what is called toxic stress for children then the implications are significant down the road for the child." Cos County has plethora of poor statistics that stem from high poverty and low educational levels and leads the state in poor health outcomes and low achievement. The best way to reverse these trends, McDowell said is to address them early on.

"The research is clear, the data is clear, the science is clear," she said, "but somehow we need to convey that message in appropriate way Investing in early childhood development is not only the right thing to do, but it is economically wise and has huge implications for the future of NH and Cos County."

Jim Michalik, Executive Director of the Family Resource Center in Gorham, said that despite our structural challenges that the county's commitment and planning is drawing attention. "Cos is on the cutting edge certainly in New Hampshire and in the Northeast on this topic. Very few counties have developed their approach to early childhood development."

On Thursday evening, the core group met with the region's school superintends. The Friday conference attracted 100 people, which was far greater than the organizers anticipated.

The conference was sponsored by the Cos Family Support Project, which is funded by the Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund and includes the following partners: Child and Family Services, Cos Family Health Services, Family Resource Center, Indian Stream Health Center, North Country Health Consortium, Northern Human Services, and Weeks Medical Center. More information is available along with video highlights from the conference at www.WhiteMtNews.com.

Highlights of Statistics from "Invest in Coos Kids Report," May 2011

Lowest birth weight on average (8 %) in the state in 2008.

Highest percentage of third graders with tooth decay (64%)

Second highest teen birthrate (31.6%) in 2008, (down from 38.7 % in 2007)

45 percent of school age children received free or reduced lunch in 2008 (up from 38% in 2007)

15.2 percent of the children live in poverty in 2008 (up from 9.7 in 2007)

Garnett Hill
Penny Pitou
Martin Lord Osman
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