Harvard’s National Scientific Council on the Developing Child has published a new working paper, “Place Matters: The Environment We Create Shapes the Foundations of Healthy Development” which examines the role of environmental factors in guiding and nurturing young children’s healthy development.

This paper adds to the previous “Working Paper 15” which explored the connection between child development and health over a lifetime. “Place Matters” considers the systemic issues that have created certain environments for children that are either nurturing or harmful to a child’s development. It explores disparities in the “Child Opportunity Index” which contribute to a lack of resources for primary children of color over time. The categorical breakdown of this index can be seen below.

Another critical part of this paper is the explanation of the role of racism in influencing a child’s socialization and development. The researchers cite that although  The Human Genome Project determined there to be “no distinct biological boundaries that indicate where one racial category begins and another ends,” systemic racism allows for political, economic, and social inequalities to persist for populations of color (POC). Multiple examples of systemic racism are cited, from Jim Crow segregation to environmental racism in which governments place hazardous waste disposal sites near POC groups. This leads to a drastic gap in environmental stability for these communities, which reduces opportunities for children to receive high-quality resources over the course of their development.

The paper concludes with implications for policy changes, advocating for an expanded definition of what is considered to affect early child development. This new definition includes environmental protection, housing planning and urban development, and legal reforms. Reframing our approach to these problems will support the dismantling of structural racism that has been at the heart of many policies over time. 

Read the full “Place Matters” paper here

The Center on the Developing Child has also developed an Action Guide in tandem with Working Paper 16 to inform policymakers of important decisions that alter our environments in a positive way to support healthy childhood development. Discover more policy recommendations in line with the working paper in the “Place Matters” action guide here

Citation: National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2023). Place Matters: The Environment We Create Shapes the Foundations of Healthy Development Working Paper No. 16. Retrieved from https://developingchild.harvard.edu/.


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