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Investing Early in Our Children

Nearly 50 years ago, Dr. T. Berry Brazelton collaborated with Head Start founders Ed Zigler and Julius Richmond to help build a comprehensive early education program giving every child a chance to make the American Dream come true, for that child, and for all of us.

Dr. T. Berry Brazelton is being honored as a Champion of Change for his commitment to delivering on the promise of Head Start in his community, helping to educate and care for our youngest, most vulnerable children. 

I am proud to be honored as a White House Champion of Change and thrilled to share this distinction with the men and women who put Head Start to work for all of our children every day. I want to thank President Obama and his administration for this recognition, and for doing so much for babies and young children. Nearly 50 years ago, I collaborated with Head Start’s founding fathers, Ed Zigler and Julius Richmond, to help build a comprehensive early education program giving every child a chance to make the American Dream come true, for that child, and for all of us. Today, thanks to the Obama administration, more children than ever are participating in Head Start, fulfilling the bipartisan vision backed by Republican and Democratic administrations alike. Science has shown that, as a result, these children will be significantly more likely to graduate from high school, enter college, stay out of trouble, join a globally competitive workforce, and serve as contributive members of our society.

Yet despite what we now know about the long-term benefits of early education’s boost for early brain development, too many Head Start eligible children still aren’t able to participate in this life-changing, America-strengthening program. For too many decades we have missed out on the opportunity to invest early in our children, and now we are paying the price with our economy, national security and safety:

  • On every indicator of educational achievement, the U.S. lags behind other developed nations, and many developing nations, as well. In 2020, there will be 123 million high pay/high skill jobs. Unless we do better, there will only be 50 million Americans qualified to fill them. The rest will be outsourced – to places like China and India. 
  • According to a report by a group of retired generals, 70% of our young men and women cannot serve our country because they are not smart enough, not healthy enough, or both.
  • Police chiefs and sheriffs say that spending on crime is out of control. There are more people in prison in the U.S. than in any other country in the world. Too many of our public high schools are drop out factories. Too many children out on our streets at age 15 with no skills are prison-bound. It will cost 3 times more to imprison them than to have educated them.

The only way to stop this vicious cycle from drop out factory to prison – and to stop this drain on our economy – is before it starts. Neuroscience tells us that the highest return on investment is when the brain is growing fastest - in the first years of life. Common sense tells us that a savings of $17 or more for every $1 invested in quality early education is an opportunity not to be missed. Yet where we are today is the legacy of decades of missed opportunities. The Obama administration has labored hard, and one of its great accomplishments has been to galvanize public will to open Head Start doors to 61,000 additional children.

But we can and must do more. I’m 94 years old, but I’m not done. There’s more to do. That’s why I founded the Brazelton Touchpoints Center – to help me keep on going, and, once I’ve done all I can, to march forward with this mission:

To ensure that all children grow up to become adults who can cope with adversity, strengthen their communities, engage as active participants in civic life, steward our fragile planet’s limited resources, and nurture the next generation to be prepared to do the same. (

The Brazelton Touchpoints Center is taking the decades of scientific research on babies and young children that I’ve been proud to help advance to millions of parents, to Touchpoints communities in more than 30 states and nine Tribal Nations, and, in its role as lead agency for the Office of Head Start’s National Center for Parent, Family and Community Engagement, to hundreds of Head Start programs around the country. We also partner with childcare centers, preschools, pediatric clinics and hospitals, and every institution that serves children, to ensure that every early opportunity for long-term success is leveraged to the fullest. Across our nation, this approach is empowering families and community members to work together on behalf of the dream that we all share for our children and our country’s future, using everything we now know about how children’s brains develop so that they will grow up strong, healthy and ready to give back.

Dr. T. Berry Brazelton is Professor of Pediatrics Emeritus at Harvard Medical School, and Founder of  the Brazelton Touchpoints Center