Families in Michigan and across the nation are struggling, and perhaps none more than those with very young children. 1 in 4 children live in poverty, and within these families we find high levels of adversity and toxic stress, the impact of which can be carried across generations, from parent to child. We understand now more than ever the science of “toxic stress,” and how adversity experienced during pregnancy and infancy truly gets under the skin. Research shows that a young child’s biology, so rapidly developing in the first thousand days of life (from conception to age 2), is profoundly shaped by environmental experiences. This biological vulnerability effects the direction of subsequent developmental trajectories, such that young children raised in vulnerable families and communities arrive to school ill prepared to learn, not having developed the necessary pre-academic skills to succeed in the educational environment. These early academic struggles cascade forward, interfering with a young adult’s ability to reach their fullest potential, and consequently deprive our state of a critical needed resource—a strong, productive, educated, and invested citizenry.
While these data are concerning- the answer is also close at hand. The science is clear—the first thousand days are critically important. The economics are also clear. Investing in young children has both short and long-term payoffs — in the short-term we can expect more resilient families, more positive parenting, improved school success and a reduction in cost expenditures for remedial services. Long-term payoffs exist, as well. Dr. James Heckman, Nobel Laureate in Economics, estimates a return on investment of $7 for every $1 invested in early childhood prevention efforts. Investing in the earliest years ensures the greatest impact, both for the individual and society.
Our team envisions a ground breaking, multi-layered, two-generation initiative, Zero to Thrive, that will harness the academic strengths of the University of Michigan to both transform the lives of the youngest, most vulnerable children and their families, and impact the long-term health and resilience of our most at-risk communities. Across disciplines, faculty at U-M have incubated innovative and evidence-based practices.
The Zero to Thrive initiative brings together faculty across multiple disciplines to find real-world solutions to the problems facing families with young children today. Zero to Thrive brings together providers, academics, policy makers, and, importantly, families, to establish a shared agenda and common metrics. It is our goal to work across public-private spheres to significantly impact the health and well-being of infants, toddlers, young children and their families.
Our faculty have demonstrated capacity to develop and implement community-based programs that make a meaningful impact in the lives of children and families. To illustrate, Mom Power and Strong Military Families are two of our flagship parenting programs for families with young children, and deliver an evidence-based curriculum to promote parent mental health, positive parenting, and strengthen resilience among families facing adversity. Our faculty have demonstrated that these interventions not only improve parent and child mental health, but that participation in these programs also leads to changes in the “parent brain” as demonstrated through brain imagining research, revealing that the impact of these interventions is deep, and can strengthen outcomes at multiple levels. This type of innovative, multi-layered research, is only possible with the active collaborations of multidisciplinary faculty, drawing on the strengths of a leading university and faculty with state-of-the-art knowledge and expertise. It is within this work across disciplines that dynamic and real solutions to lingering social problems can be found.
The University of Michigan was the birthplace of the field of infant and early childhood mental health nationally and internationally, which began with the pioneering work of Selma Fraiberg, a social worker in the U-M Department of Psychiatry in the 1970’s. Her work continues today through the innovative multidisciplinary Zero to Thrive initiative, led by Drs. Kate Rosenblum and Maria Muzik.
Zero to Thrive
4250 Plymouth Road
Ann Arbor, MI 48109