Two years ago, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) tasked a committee of experts in child health, education, economics and policy with studying the causes and consequences of the opportunity gap for young children. This week, the committee released the final report for its consensus study: “Exploring the Opportunity Gap for Young Children From Birth to Age Eight."
We at diversitydatakids.org are saddened, though not surprised, by the findings of the report, which point to overwhelming inequities in opportunity for young children and subsequent negative effects on their wellbeing today and into the future. We commend NASEM’S effort to convene this committee, which we believe is an important step forward for closing this opportunity gap and giving all children safer, healthier, happier and more equitable experiences.
We feel compelled by the report—and know many others will too—to redouble our efforts to make child opportunity more equitable.
The report takes a comprehensive, whole-child approach to describing opportunity gaps among young children, focusing not just on education, but also on physical health and socio-emotional development. It explores opportunity gaps at the family-, community- and policy-level, such as family job quality, neighborhood opportunity and access to supportive policies like SNAP and Head Start. It delves into structural factors that contribute to opportunity gaps, such as past and present policy choices, labor market inequalities and residential, school and early care and education segregation by race and ethnicity, family income, disability and language.
The committee found that there a number of policies and promising practices that can reduce these persistent gaps. The benefits of closing the opportunity gap—particularly by advancing accessibility and equity in SNAP, Head Start and Medicaid—would exceed the costs.
"We believe it is crucial that these findings be shared widely and loudly—and acted upon with the urgency they deserve. "
Pamela Joshi, our policy research director, served on the committee and contributed to the report’s findings and recommendations. “The evidence presented in this report is striking. The deck is stacked against certain children in every domain of child development that the committee examined,” says Joshi. “The report includes a bold vision of recommendations to reduce the opportunity gap in the face of these many compounding inequities across some children's worlds. Little fixes may not make be enough.”
We believe it is crucial that these findings be shared widely and loudly—and acted upon with the urgency they deserve. Children growing up today cannot wait for slow or incremental change.
In 2019, the NASEM report A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty spurred congressional hearings, research partnerships, new funding and consensus building to cut child poverty in half within ten years, all of which contributed to the inclusion of the expanded Child Tax Credit in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. In the years since, however, federal efforts to advance ambitious child and family policies have stalled. We hope that this new report rekindles that drive to ensure all children, regardless of race and ethnicity, income, immigrant status or where they grow up, have the opportunities they need to thrive.
That kind of impact will require intense and persistent efforts to disseminate this report and engage with stakeholders over the coming years. We at diversitydatakids.org look forward to being a part of that work.