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Rationale of the Approach

Some of the knowledge base behind prevention and child development approaches

A great deal of research informs the field of prevention science. Among the research summaries is that of the Institute of Medicine (IOM), which conducted a systematic review of the scientific literature on prevention over several decades. This review has shown that the promise and potential lifetime benefits of preventing mental, emotional, and behavioral (MEB) disorders are greatest by focusing on young people.

Prevention involves “interventions that aim to enhance the ability to achieve developmentally appropriate tasks (developmental competencies) and a positive sense of self-esteem, mastery, well-being, and social inclusion and to strengthen the ability to cope with adversity.”[1]

Among IOM Report findings that have implications for education leaders are these:

  • A developmental perspective is important: throughout the lifespan, many examples exist where long-term interventions made an impact; many were systemic interventions
  • Interventions that start early are successful. We can target risk factors and strengthen protective factors so that strength-based models are key
  • Trying to prevent something from happening is hard, which is why it is important to promote strengths and competencies
  • Universal interventions are effective and have maximum benefit among those with most problems
  • The evidence is strong for the importance of developing social and emotional skills
  • Prevention programs are highly cost effective though not all prevention programs work

More and more research shows how learning and emotion work together in the brain. “Recent technological breakthroughs make research in human biology and cognitive science more relevant for education than ever before (….) Neuroscientists can for the first time study the learning brain in action.”[2]

“We know now that learning is a highly sophisticated process that involves all of the domains of human development. These domains—cognitive, social, emotional, physical—are fully intertwined. Each domain is influenced and enhanced by the others, and each domain must be nurtured and supported as children grow. There is no separating a child into discrete service categories; all of us are always serving the whole child, regardless of our institutional affiliation or professional expertise.”[3]

Scientists at the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard have identified core principles that should underlie all public investments for children and youth:

  • Brains are built over time.
  • The interactive influences of genes and experience literally shape the architecture of the developing brain.
  • Both brain architecture and developing abilities are built “from the bottom up” with simple circuits and skills providing the scaffolding for more advanced circuits and skills over time.
  • Cognitive, emotional, and social capabilities are inextricably intertwined through the life course.
  • Toxic stress in early childhood is associated with persistent effects on the nervous systems and stress hormone systems that can damage developing brain architecture and lead to lifelong problems in learning, behavior, and both physical and mental health.

[1] Preventing Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Disorders Among Young People: Progress and Possibilities. 2009. Edited by M. E. O’Connell, T. Boat and K. E. Warner. Board on Children, Youth, and Families. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. Henceforth: IOM Report 2009.
[2] Hinton, Christine, Fischer, K.W., and Glennon, C., Mind, Brain, and Education, in Teaching and Learning in the Era of the Common Core, Prepared for Students at the Center Symposium, Boston, 2012. Downloaded November 24, 2013.
[3] The Science of Early Childhood Development, National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (www.developingchild.net), Jack P. Shonkoff, M.D., Chair

Updated June 2015

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