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Opinion Virginia’s next governor must commit to early-childhood education and health

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Barbara Favola, a Democrat, represents parts of Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun counties in the Virginia Senate.

Our collective experiences of living through the coronavirus pandemic have shown us that we must reevaluate the country’s social safety net and the allocation of resources to achieve the equity and opportunity that have long been denied to so many. I am convinced that society can make the most impact and create the greatest opportunity for the greatest number of Americans by ensuring that our children thrive.

Experts tell us that adverse childhood experiences increase the risk for adult mental health problems and substance misuse. An adverse childhood experience could include maltreatment, neglect, or physical or sexual abuse. The Virginia Commission on Youth was advised that adults with four or more adverse childhood experiences are 30 times more likely to attempt suicide, three times more likely to experience problematic drug use, nearly six times as likely to experience problematic alcohol use and four times as likely to suffer from depression.

Adverse childhood experiences are more likely to be passed on to the next generation when parents are suffering from the health effects of adverse childhood experiences.

In 2017 in Virginia alone, there were 6,277 known cases of child maltreatment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the lifetime cost for each victim of child maltreatment who survives to adulthood is approximately $210,000, which is comparable to other costly health conditions such as stroke, with a lifetime cost per person of $158,846, or type-2 diabetes, which is estimated at between $181,000 and $253,000. Nationwide, the total lifetime cost for child maltreatment is estimated to be as large as $585 billion. This is an enormous preventable cost that weakens families and communities and hinders our economy.

The good news is that we can mitigate these adverse effects by providing opportunities for our children to enjoy positive childhood experiences. One way we can accomplish this is by funding nurse-family partnerships to help parents provide the loving relationships that children need. The Family Access to Medical Insurance Security Plan, or FAMIS, Virginia’s health insurance program for children, offers coverage for women in Virginia throughout pregnancy but for only two months after the baby’s birth, when home visits and parenting skills are offered. More families need these partnerships and services to decrease the incidence of adverse childhood experiences. Home visit programs vary by locality in Virginia, but there is uniformity of need for these services across the commonwealth.

Another way we can mitigate the effects of child maltreatment and to ensure every child is given an opportunity to thrive is to increase access to affordable, quality early-childhood education. Investing in early-childhood education does more than give kids a head start. Children in developmentally appropriate preschool classes have the opportunity to interact with caring adults, explore and unlock their imaginations and experience the feeling of self-worth and accomplishment. Moreover, these children will be able to develop relationships with trusted adults who care about their well-being.

If we expect to harness all of the intellectual capacity and ingenuity that the United States needs to realize its full potential, we must make wise investments. Research has demonstrated that quality learning and care programs are a smart investment. In fact, robust and comprehensive early interventions can break the cycle of child maltreatment and the chains of poverty for generations to come. Moreover, some analysts tell us that for every dollar invested in early-childhood programs, society yields a $6.30 return, mainly because of improved educational attainment, better employment and better health outcomes.

Now that the federal government has implemented a targeted child-tax credit, at least for a short period of time, states should take the opportunity to provide the early intervention and educational programs necessary to help families and children succeed.

Although Virginia has expanded access to both intervention and education programs over the past few years, more needs to be done. Virginia’s gubernatorial candidates must recognize the transformational benefits of these programs and make them a cornerstone of their policies and funding priorities.

Read more:

Jonathan Horowitch: Quality child care was out of reach for many pre-pandemic. That must change in our recovery.

Pamela Northam, Janet Howell and Siobahn Dunnavant: Working together for better early-childhood education in Virginia

Tracy Jost: Keeping a child-care center open amid coronavirus

The Post’s View: The child-care industry is on the brink of collapse. Congress must rescue it.

Katrina vanden Heuvel: Investment in child care can’t wait until there’s a coronavirus vaccine