Foundation for Life:
The Infant Toddler Brain

Building the foundation for a lifetime

Birth to age three offers an amazing opportunity to influence the entire trajectory of a child’s life. Research indicates that 80 percent of brain development occurs by age three. In Minnesota, that means more than 200,000 children are in this critical stage of development.

There is a growing body of scientific evidence that validates a focus on the earliest years of a child’s life as a way to drive better health outcomes and decrease opportunity gaps.

Children’s Minnesota is engaged in an effort to build greater awareness about the importance of this time in a child’s life and to identify collaborative methods to reach more children in those foundational years.

Healthy development happens in the home and in the community, through relationships with families, friends, and neighbors, which means we can all play a role in supporting a strong start. That’s why we are excited to embark on a collaborative journey to ensure that every child gets the foundation he/she needs for a healthy and productive life.

More information on the science behind early brain development.

Facts and calls to action

Collective action

The stakes are high, but the opportunity is tremendous. At Children’s, we embrace a shared community responsibility to provide children the support we know they need to succeed: food, safety, access to health and educational resources and freedom from bias, prejudice and the crippling effects of poverty. And that’s just the start. This new commitment is a critical part of our mission.

How can you join us? We invite you to read our publication Foundation for Life. It explains why this effort is so important to Children’s and how we’re going to make this happen. Then, let’s talk. Join our advocacy network, call or email us. We need your help in advocating for the youngest, most vulnerable population so they can become healthy, happy, productive citizens.

Toxic stress and the developing brain

In the first few years of life, 700 new neural connections are made every second. Yet, if a child lives in an environment with persistent challenges—such as poverty, poor nutrition, inadequate housing and limited positive relationships—it prevents those connections from forming.

The environmental challenges that impede development are what we call “toxic stress.” The effects of toxic stress touch nearly every aspect of a child’s health and wellbeing and contribute to a lifetime of health problems ranging from compromised immune systems to psychological disorders.

Children under the age of three are especially vulnerable to the negative effects of toxic stress, but they are also developmentally open to positive influences.

The power of relationships: Overcoming barriers to health

Toxic stress doesn’t have to be devastating. Healthy, positive relationships can cushion against the negative effects of toxic stress—and so can early, well-designed interventions. We can change the entire trajectory of a child’s life. Doing so saves a lifetime of health care costs associated with conditions related to toxic stress, but, more importantly, it provides greater quality of life for that child.

Collaborating to promote change

Children are falling through the cracks in the system. Pediatricians are a tremendously important component of ensuring the health and wellbeing of children, but they cannot help the children they don’t see—and less than half of infants and toddlers meet the AAP’s well-child visit guidelines. It’s time to get the whole community together to work toward better outcomes for these children. Right now, Minnesota has robust resources in the area of community advocacy and child health, but for the most part, these organizations operate independently. Imagine what we can do together. That’s what we’re going to find out.

Moving forward

We’re moving forward in four big ways: first, we’re promoting awareness of the science behind early childhood development—and the very real reasons we need to invest in this time in a child’s life. Second, we’re exploring how primary clinical care – working with others – can potentially create a more streamlined and comprehensive resource and referral system. We want to make sure that young children get the interventions and support they need to thrive. Third, we’re tackling this issue at the policy level by promoting advocacy engagement to support children and families. Finally, we’re committed to supporting good work. We know that this region already boasts a wealth of strong organizations doing effective, culturally relevant work. We want to work with them to multiply our collective power exponentially. Download the paper to find out more about how we’re going to make this happen.



If you have questions for our advocacy team, please contact:

Kelly Wolfe

[email protected]

Anna Youngerman

[email protected]