From the Strong Foundations Project website: The ‘first thousand days’ refers to the period of development from conception to age 2. While early years experts have long been aware that this is an important period of development, researchers have only recently started to unlock some of the mysteries surrounding the processes by which genes, experiences and environments interact to influence development. New knowledge that has been unveiled has served to increase experts’ views of the significance of the first thousand days, and of the urgent need to reform our policies, practices and systems in response to the evidence.
Key findings from the Project
· The age, health and wellbeing of both mother and father prior to the child’s conception affect the integrity of the embryo right from the very beginning.
· The foetus uses cues provided by their mother’s physical and mental states to ‘predict’ the kind of world they will be born into, and adapts accordingly. This adaptation can be either beneficial or detrimental, depending on the child’s relationships and environments.
· The human brain and our bodily systems – including the immune, gastrointestinal, and cardiovascular systems – operate as an integrated system, not as separate systems. This means that what happens in the first thousand days affects the whole body, with potentially profound consequences over the life course.
· Disadvantage can be passed down through the generations at a cellular level. Our biology changes in response to stress, poverty and other prolonged adverse experiences, and these changes can be passed on to children from their parents and grandparents.
· When children do not feel safe, calm or protected, the child’s brain places an emphasis on developing neuronal pathways that are associated with survival, before those that are essential to future learning and growth.
· In addition to loving caregivers, children need safe communities, secure housing, access to green parklands, environments free from toxins, and access to affordable, nutritious foods. Many of these needs are beyond the control of individual families. This means that children can only develop as well as their families and their community and our broader society enable them to.
· Not all changes that occur within the first thousand days are permanent. But as children grow, their ability to alter and change to make up for negative experiences and environments in the first thousand days becomes more difficult.
The First Thousand Days: An Evidence Paper
Prepared by: Dr Tim Moore, Ms Noushin Arefadib, Dr Alana Deery and Ms Sue West
The citation for the paper is as follows: Moore, T.G., Arefadib, N., Deery, A., & West, S. (2017). The First Thousand Days: An Evidence Paper. Parkville, Victoria; Centre for Community Child Health, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.
Final comment from the Paper
The rapid social, economic and technological changes that have occurred over the past half century or so have been enormously beneficial in many ways. There have been dramatic improvements in longevity, standards of living, and health care, along with reductions in violence. But these gains have come at a cost that we are only just beginning to recognise – in the form of the epidemics of non-communicable diseases that threaten to reverse the longevity gains, the growth in inequalities and the corrosive effects these are having on social trust and capital, the emergence of wicked / complex problems, and even climate change. This is the ‘social climate change’ story — how the dramatic changes that have occurred in our societies over the last half a century have affected the conditions under which families are raising young children, and therefore children’s developmental and health outcomes. While some of these changes are for the better, some appear not to be. Our task is to understand the mechanisms that underpin development, learn how these can be disrupted by adverse experiences and exposures, and identify the environmental changes that are having these adverse effects so we can address them. This paper is a progress report on where we have got to with that task.
Peter Limbrick writes: With thanks to Dr Tim Moore for alerting TAC Bulletin to this work.