Report Argues for 'Big Bet' on Early Childhood Development

A philanthropic investment of $1 billion in early-childhood development interventions could generate a return of between $5.5 billion and $11 billion in economic benefits for children and families, a report from the finds.

The report, (16 pages, PDF), explores how foundations could support holistic child development from birth through kindergarten — one of the "billion dollar bets" identified in Bridgespan's earlier report, (33 pages, PDF). Creating and scaling a suite of technology-enabled tools for parents, informal caregivers, daycare center providers, and pre-K instructors, the report argues, would help improve the school readiness of low-income children and children of color, who currently are more likely to start kindergarten behind their peers in cognitive, social, and emotional skills, language literacy, and other indicators of early childhood development that are linked to success later in life.

The report focuses on two research-centered strategies — supporting greater understanding of how to effectively link early childhood development diagnostics with the right suite of programs, services, and interventions; and seeding the market for technology-enabled tools that can increase effectiveness of adult-child interactions. Recommendations for philanthropic investments include a tool to map health and developmental assessment results to programs and services ($1.4 million); an evaluation of the field of kindergarten-readiness assessments ($300,000); an evaluation of the field of early childhood tech-enabled tools ($300,000); the scaling of evidence-based organizations that offer low-cost tools supportive of adult-child interactions ($750 million); investments in the development of tools tailored for low-income and diverse families ($200 million) and to pilot those tools in communities ($23 million); and evaluation and refinement of those tools ($25 million).

According to the report, the investments, if fully funded, would impact up to ten million low-income children who are not currently on track to be school-ready — and up to 7 percent of whom would benefit enough to achieve the standard deviation improvement in school readiness. In addition, each of those children could gain as much as $15,800 in improved lifetime earnings, which adds up to a potential economic benefit of between $5.5 billion and $11 billion.

"With new research definitively showing that the foundation for life success begins in a child's earliest years, our team set out to identify types of investments to help us move towards a future where all children in the U.S. have access to high-quality developmental experiences," said Debby Bielak, a Bridgespan partner and co-author of the report. "Our hope is that this research will help more of these tech billionaires see how they can create significant social change by investing in the very industry that brought them such success."

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