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California Essentials for Childhood Initiative (CA)

The California Essentials for Childhood Initiative uses a public health and collective impact approach to align and enhance collaborative efforts to promote safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments for children, youth and families through systems, policy and social norms change.

Social-Emotional Development in the First Three Years []


The Issue

In the first three years of life, children achieve remarkable advances in social and emotional development (SED) that establish a foundation for later competencies. Yet even in the first three years, these achievements can be threatened by exposure to elevated stresses of many kinds. Family poverty, marital conflict, parental emotional problems, experiences of trauma, neglect, or abuse and other adversities cause some infants and toddlers to experience anxious fearfulness, overwhelming sadness, disorganized attachment, or serious problems managing behavior and impulses. This brief surveys a range of strategies to strengthen adult caregiving and improve young children’s socioemotional development, with the goal of supporting the latter by strengthening the former.

Key Findings

Early social and emotional development establishes a psychological foundation for emerging competence across developmental domains and is based on children’s relationships with those who care for them.

Social and emotional health is vulnerable to adversity, which affects many young children.

High-quality, evidence-based home visitation programs can strengthen early social and emotional development by improving the quality of parental care and adult functioning.

Parent skills training programs can significantly improve the quality of parental care and strengthen young children’s SED.

Two-generation programs like Early Head Start offer promise for strengthening early childhood SED and parental quality of care through interventions designed for each partner.

[For more on this story by Thompson RA, go to]

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