Why early childhood development programs are vital

/ Source: TODAY

To demonstrate their mutual commitment, JOHNSON’S® and Save the Children are bringing awareness to the importance of early childhood development programs, so that every child can reach their full potential.

This holiday season, JOHNSON’S® and Save the Children are igniting a social movement to support early childhood development. Consumers can join in and show how they and their family stand up for children who need access to critical education programs.

If you select Save the Children through the Johnson & Johnson Donate a Photo app, JOHNSON’S® will triple its donation in support of early childhood education programs.

For the last 17 years, Carolyn Miles has worked tirelessly to promote one simple yet complex idea: that by investing in childhood – mainly through health, education and protection – the world will be a better place. As the President and CEO of Save the Children, Miles promotes early childhood development programs to more than 140 million children around the world, and oversees an operating revenue of close to $700 million. But there’s plenty of work to be done.

Each day, millions of babies may miss opportunities crucial to their future development because of lack of education, poor health, poverty and a number of other factors. This is why early childhood developmental programs are vital. Think of it this way: for almost 15 million children living in poverty in the U.S, they enter kindergarten unready to succeed because by age 3, they’ve heard an average of 30 million fewer words addressed to them than children from more affluent, professional families. These kids start school 18-months behind and it’s a struggle to catch up.

Johnson & Johnson has been working with Save the Children for two decades; JOHNSON’S®, the company’s baby product line, began working with the organization in 2012 to help children in need all over the country. Kelly Gottfried, JOHNSON’S® marketing director, explained that the two organizations are now “uniting to develop a global toolkit that will integrate early stimulation and learning into community-based programs in low resource settings.” The goal: help support happy, healthy development of babies. Or, exactly what Miles is doing with Save the Children.

This Q&A with Miles has been edited for length and clarity.

Save the Children was founded in the U.S. in 1932 after starting in England in 1919. How do you describe the current mission?

It’s still based on one fundamental, salvational thought—that children have rights. Children have the right to three things: health, education, and to be protected from harm. By 2030, we want to end the preventable deaths of children under the age of five; pneumonia and malaria are curable and preventable. By 2030, every child should be in school and get a basic education; reading, writing, and numeracy. And by 2030, all children should be protected from harm, whether from emergency situations or as refugees.

What in your background, family or otherwise, prepared you to work for Save the Children?

My background in business has been really useful. I brought a lot of rigor to the organization, in terms of the real impact that we have for kids. It’s not good enough to say we do great things and we reach millions of children living in poverty. How did we really change their lives? Personally, being a mom impacts the way I look at our work. I came to Save the Children because, when I was living in Asia, I saw the huge differences between the opportunities my children had versus the children I met in our travels. It came to down to wealth and education, not intelligence.

How is Save the Children addressing early childhood development programs?

On the American side, we have a program called Early Steps to School Success. We work in 13 of the poorest states in the U.S, in their rural communities. Our workers visit families once or twice a month for the first three years of the child’s life. It’s really a program for moms; it’s focused on helping them teach their children, to give them the necessary early education and stimulation. We bring toys, books, and we work on motor and language development. In addition, we connect these mothers to the local elementary schools, and introduce them to preschools and Head Start programs in their community. It’s so important; without preschool kids are typically about 18 months behind. We also run about 40 Head Start program sites in four states, as well as literacy programs in preschools and primary schools.

What’s the success rate?

Despite the many risk factors that babies and toddlers in our home visiting programs face, more than 80 percent of our 3-year-olds meet or surpass the national norm on pre-literacy tests. Those statistics hold up when we test them again at age 5. That means these children are entering school ready to succeed.

What’s the most disheartening statistic that’s crossed your desk?

Studies show that kids who don’t get access to early learning programs are 50 percent more likely to be placed in special education, 25 percent more likely to drop out of school, and 60 percent more likely to never attend college.

Tell me about your relationship with Johnson’s.

We’ve been working with Johnson’s for 20 years. It’s a natural fit for us because of the shared focus on mothers and babies; we have our Early Steps program, while Johnson’s has their baby line and other products. In 2014, they became a global partner, so they work in multiple countries with us. We have an overarching vision—to promote the survival and healthy development of children under five, with a particular focus on young children.

They [also] give us marketing capabilities. They'll let us talk about what we're doing around the world. We don't have a lot of dollars to spend on Save the Children, from a marketing standpoint. We fundraise, and most of our dollars are used to raise money, but branding and getting our ideas out there... they give us visibility on those things.

Select Save the Children through the Johnson & Johnson Donate a Photo app and JOHNSON’S® will triple its donation in support of early childhood education programs.