CICD Blog

End of Year Message by CICD Director, Patrice Kunesh

A reflection on early childhood education and the wellbeing of children

Patrice Kunesh | Assistant Vice President and Director of the Center for Indian Country Development

Published December 14, 2017

We close the year with a message about the well-being of children, a consideration interwoven throughout our work. I often begin a meeting with this question: “How are the children?” By framing a conversation concerning economic policy around the well-being of children, I mean to focus attention on the long-lasting benefits and social returns gained from investing in high-quality educational programs and services. In Indian Country, the benefits and returns from these programs increase exponentially because they can mitigate the intergenerational transmission of profound disadvantages experienced by too many Native American children for too long.

For the past two years, the Center for Indian Country Development has focused on early childhood development (ECD) – how it mitigates the impact of historical trauma and bridges wide educational deficits. One of the outcomes from last year’s ECD convening has been a close collaboration with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and Better Way Foundation and the collective launch of the Healthy Children Healthy Nations initiative. This initiative, which is focused on the experience of Minnesota tribes with ECD, sits at the intersection of decades of work at the Minneapolis Fed on both Indian Country and on early childhood development. At a convening of funders and policy makers, Mark Wright, Research Director at the Minneapolis Fed, shared his perspectives on the value of ECD programs, particularly in areas of steep disparities: “They are, quite simply, investments that make both dollars and sense.”

Our work on early childhood development began over twenty years ago when our then-Research Director Art Rolnick took a hard look at regional development policies and found meager returns on state subsidies to corporations. When asked for offer a better economic development alternative, Art and my colleague Rob Grunewald teamed up to investigate and document evidence on the returns of early childhood development. According to Art, now senior fellow at the University of Minnesota, “The evidence is overwhelming that investments in young children from disadvantaged environments have a large public return.”

Within the context of Native American children, Rob finds that “Native ECD programs can achieve a variety of benefits to children and communities” when the right components are in place. In his recent article entitled The Promise of Early Childhood Development in Indian Country, Rob shares his insights about the role of these programs in Native communities, especially those that incorporate Native language and culture, as well as the challenges to supporting them.

What makes this work so worthwhile is that it champions the goal of making sure that all American Indian children, and all other children, reach their full potential.