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Child Development: Investing in Our Children

One Mother's Story

Angela had her first child as a teenager. She continued to stay in school and had two more children. As she was getting ready to marry her children's father, he was killed. At the time, she was living in her mother's house and going to college for a nursing degree. Money is one of Angela's biggest worries. She also feels she has no one to turn to for support in trying to raise her children.

During the pregnancy with her youngest child, Angela joined the Legacy for Children™ program. Watching the other children in the Legacy program helped Angela understand what to expect of her daughter Lara as she was growing. Talking to other mothers about new parenting skills strengthened her own skills and helped her decide to become an early childhood educator. "It never would have crossed my mind to want to help others. I never realized what an influence I was to other people." Angela developed a strong connection to the idea of "parents are the child's first teachers," and changed her interactions with her children, including her discipline decisions, by focusing on "positive parenting." Angela reported that Lara is advanced, and was accepted into an accelerated education program by age 5.

Legacy helped Angela to think more about her influence on her children. "Legacy opened my eyes to thinking through the long-term effects of what I do, rather than just at that moment."— Angela, a Legacy mother

Photo: Three women

Legacy for Children™

CDC currently is funding and working on a study called Legacy for Children™. The Legacy program is based on the belief that parents can have a real effect on how their children learn and grow. Research has shown that how parents interact with their children is related to children's success later in life. It appears that even children who face various challenges, such as poverty or poor neighborhoods, are more likely to overcome these challenges when their parents are involved and invested in providing a safe, stable, and nurturing base of support.

How It Works

A core part of the Legacy program is regular group meetings of mothers, including mother-only sessions and mother–child sessions. The main purpose of these meetings is to provide mothers with a chance to develop and explore goals and dreams for their children with other mothers in similar circumstances. Intervention specialists, who are skilled in guiding group discussions and in child development, assist mothers in finding and trying out new ways to help their children realize those dreams. In addition, Legacy includes one-on-one sessions with mothers that strengthen what mothers discover in the group sessions.

It is important to note that Legacy does not tell mothers how to raise their children. The group sessions encourage exploration, discussion, and trying out a variety of ideas and behaviors that are linked to positive outcomes, allowing mothers to decide what is right for themselves and their children.

Follow-Up Study

A follow-up study of Legacy currently is under way. The purpose of the follow-up study is to find out how Legacy affects the long-term health and well-being of children. Researchers are following children who were part of the main study 3 to 5 years later when they are in third grade, and measuring their progress. The researchers are looking at the children's learning and thinking ability; school performance; behavior; social skills; and emotional, mental, and physical health. The study also will provide estimates of the broader effects and benefits of Legacy on society, such as on the social services, education, juvenile justice, and physical and mental health care systems.

Photo: Mother and child

Taking Research to Practice

CDC and the Administration for Children and Families (which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) are partnering to translate research to practice by integrating Legacy into Early Head Start programs. The Legacy model is currently being used in five Early Head Start programs across four states within Head Start Region IV (Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Kentucky).

Investing In Our Children

Investing in our children is investing in our future. Early childhood investment can reduce social costs. This includes tangible costs such as special education, foster care, welfare, medical care, law enforcement, social security, and social services, and intangible costs such as physical and emotional pain experienced by children with developmental delays and their families.

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