Child looking at camera

Start Early to Support Social & Emotional Health

We translate research and study strategies and interventions that target social and emotional skills and development.

Research has shown that children’s experiences and relationships during their first few years build a critical foundation for future success in school, work and life. Countless studies have reported better life outcomes for children fortunate to have access to quality early education: greater high school and college completion rates, higher earnings and better health. Unfortunately, adverse early life experiences — often stemming from generations of institutionalized racism and historical trauma — prevent children from forming secure attachments with adult caregivers that support long-term social, emotional and even physical well-being. Children who do not develop these crucial social and emotional skills fall behind as early as kindergarten, putting them at a disadvantage compared to their peers for years to come.

Fortunately, research also demonstrates that access to and engagement in early intervention and high-quality early learning experiences and family supports have the potential to buffer the negative effects of adverse early experiences and advance positive outcomes. Start Early contributes to this important body of research by consolidating and translating research evidence and studying strategies and interventions that target the social and emotional skills and well-being of young children and their families, with the goal of setting young children on a path to thrive in school and life.

Key Findings

  • Consistent, predictable and responsive relationships are the “active ingredients” of environmental influence during the early childhood years.
  • These relationships along with safe and secure environments, nutrition, health-promoting behaviors and enriching early learning serve as the early foundations of lifelong health.
  • Home visiting and doula programs support parent well-being during and soon after pregnancy, as well as promote the nurturing attachment and relationship between parent and child that are foundational for a child’s healthy social and emotional development.
  • High-quality center-based early childhood programs are shown to have a significant and long-lasting impact on the lives of children by nurturing adult-child relationships, providing safe and secure environments and promoting healthy behaviors and habits.
  • Overall, early intervention and early learning and care programs can successfully support young children’s social and emotional development by:
    • Supporting parents as their children’s primary nurturers, educators and advocates through intensive, relationship-based services;
    • Providing consistent and continuous support through children’s first five years of life;
    • Having well-trained staff who are knowledgeable about early childhood development and are able to form trusting and nurturing relationships with parents and young children; and
    • Using evidence-based practices that acknowledge and support the social and emotional underpinnings of early childhood development.
  • The social and emotional well-being of our youngest children must be at the forefront of public policy and financing discussions. A true commitment to equity and ensuring that all children are prepared to learn in school and go on to lead successful and fulfilling lives, involves building a systemic, coordinated approach to investing in and implementing programs and strategies that advance children’s social and emotional competencies and address early childhood mental health needs.

Research & Evaluation Team & Collaborators