The four indicators of risk included in this report were selected based on 1) evidence for a strong relationship to health, developmental, and school outcomes; 2) availability of quality data at both the state and local levels on an annual basis; and 3) the potential for their effects to be reduced through prevention, early intervention, and policy change.
Although there is evidence that factors such as poverty, low maternal education, and teenage births have independent effects on child health and development, these factors do not occur in isolation. For example::
Risk factors are conditions that are associated with children having an increased chance of experiencing developmental or school problems. Importantly, the mere presence of a risk factor does not mean a child is destined for a school failure. There is a large body of research demonstrating that for many children, participation in high-quality early intervention programs that promote optimal child health and development reduces or even eliminates the risk associated with conditions into which they were born. Early educational intervention can have substantive short- and long-term effects on cognition, socialemotional development, school progress, antisocial behavior, and even crime.12 For example, participants in high quality early intervention programs such as the Perry Preschool and the Abecedarian program have experienced meaningful cognitive, social, and school effects lasting into adulthood.13,14 An evaluation of several state-funded preschool programs showed positive impact at least through kindergarten, and some states have demonstrated sustained impact beyond the kindergarten year.15
Thus, for most children, the circumstances into which they’re born don’t need to dictate their life circumstances. With strong and decisive leadership, a clear plan, and measurement along the way, we can improve children’s outcomes with cost-effective interventions that mitigate the effects of these and other risk factors.