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Documentary Series Reframes Child Health and Development in America

The Raising of America: Early Childhood and the Future of our Nation is a new five-part documentary series that explores how conditions faced by children and their families during infancy and the early years can literally alter the developing brain and affect a child’s future success—in school and in life.

Recent studies emphasize how a child’s earliest surroundings and interactions shape the developing brain, building the foundations for life-long emotional, intellectual and even physical health and development. Exposure to a nurturing or adverse environment in the early years affects how we think, feel and relate to others as we age, including our capacities for empathy, impulse control and even love.

When parents are pressed for time, money and resources, the future mental and physical wellbeing of their children is impacted. In the U.S., child wellbeing has fallen to 26th out of 29 rich nations. An increasing number of children are growing up with learning, behavioral and physical health challenges. But our kids’ health is not all that is at risk, researchers argue. By squeezing young families and under-investing in early childhood, we are also under-developing America. If we want children to do better in school and in life—and the nation to prosper—we can’t wait until they enter kindergarten.

The studies are many; they are strong and they are persuasive. Yet few or no popular media until now have translated these scientific findings into a compelling new story capable of changing the way parents, practitioners, policymakers and the public think about society’s responsibilities and interest in these first crucial years. The conventional default explanations of child development—good vs. bad parents, genetics and cultural dysfunction—still dominate. Perhaps not coincidentally, little progress has been made in improving outcomes for America’s children.

The Raising of America seeks to spark a first-ever national conversation which asks: what can be done to better assure the conditions all babies and young children need to thrive? Will the U.S. squander its own future, or will it invest in its youngest children and their families?

Click below to view the trailer:

Find a screening event near you or find out if your local PBS station will be showing the documentary. 

In November 2014, the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities received a grant to create a two-country cohort focused on aligning systems and public policy with the latest brain science. The initiative is in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Palix Foundation’s Alberta Family Wellness Initiative. In June 2015, KVC Health Systems, which includes the new KVC Institute for Health Systems Innovation and its premier psychiatric treatment division KVC Hospitals, was one of 15 U.S. and Canadian nonprofit organizations selected to participate in “Change in Mind: Applying Neurosciences to Revitalize Communities.” This two year initiative has brought leaders together to move the needle on difficult social issues including poverty, substance abuse, family discord, trauma, and physical and mental health challenges.

KVC Health Systems, based in the Kansas City area, is an international leader known for its track record of innovation in child welfare and behavioral healthcare. The nonprofit organization improves outcomes for thousands of children in foster care across Kansas, Nebraska, Kentucky and West Virginia, and also provides in-home therapy to keep families safely together and prevent the need for out-of-home care (commonly referred to as family preservation). KVC is nationally recognized for its leadership in integrating trauma-informed care into child welfare and related systems.

In April 2016, leaders from KVC Health Systems, the KVC Institute for Health Systems Innovation and KVC Hospitals will travel to Washington, D.C. for the fourth convening of the Change in Mind cohort. Check back on our website for updates on the Change in Mind initiative, or follow our Facebook and Twitter pages.

*The Raising of America was produced by the San Francisco-based film production and distribution center, California Newsreel, in partnership with Vital Pictures of Boston.