Dec 16, 2016

Alan Guttmacher: Child care a necessity and a wise investment

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Alan Guttmacher, M.D., a pediatrician and medical geneticist, who is senior advisor to the Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children. He served as director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health from 2009-2015. Previously, Dr. Guttmacher served in a number of roles at NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute. From 1987-1999, he was in the Department of Pediatrics at UVM.

Last week, Vermont’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Financing High Quality Affordable Child Care sent a report to the governor and Legislature, providing policymakers with recommendations and financing options to make high-quality affordable child care available to all families who need it.

This report makes one thing clear: Investing in the early years is a social and economic imperative for Vermont.

And such investment is not only a sound fiscal strategy, but the most effective way to improve lifelong health and well-being.

I have been fortunate over the past three decades to work first as a pediatrician in Vermont and then at the National Institutes of Health, returning to Vermont a year ago after directing the NIH’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development for the previous six years. My experience as a Vermont pediatrician gave me a belief that the earliest years of life have profound impact on children’s lives. My experience at the NIH convinced me not only that the latest and best scientific research strongly supported this belief, but that such research also showed the earliest years of life have a profound impact on the health of the adults who grow from those children.

In recent years, rigorous research has increasingly pointed to the importance of the first years of life in setting the trajectory for lifelong well-being. This research has various threads, from “brain science” to “developmental origins of health and disease,” but weaves a common lesson for public policy: the first five years of life are the most important for affecting lifelong cognitive, emotional, social and physical well-being. Our best hope for the future is to adopt practices and policies that recognize this reality.

Another reality is that over 70 percent of Vermont children under age 6 have all available parents in the workforce, meaning they’re apt to need some form of child care while parents are working. Yet, almost 80 percent of Vermont infants and toddlers likely to need care don’t have access to high-quality, regulated child care programs, according to a report by Let’s Grow Kids.

As a society, we need to increase our investments of time and energy in the first years of life. This is the right thing to do, but also a savvy investment in our state and nation’s future. Rigorous long-term studies have shown that every dollar spent on high-quality early care and learning programs yields a return on investment that ranges from $4 to $9.

It is not frequent that sound science, sound fiscal strategy, and sound social policy all point to the same conclusion: informed by the recommendations in the Blue Ribbon Commission’s report, we need to make progress towards a Vermont where all children have access to high-quality, affordable child care and early education.

Vermonters can make sure our legislators know this issue is important to us by signing the petition at, thereby stating support for prioritizing children and increasing public investments in high-quality, affordable child care to ensure every Vermont child has a strong start. It’s sound science, sound fiscal strategy, and sound social policy.

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