Objective 1: Build Strong Beginnings

Major advances in neuroscience, molecular biology, genomics, psychology, and other fields now help us to understand better how significant adversity early in life gets into the body and has lifelong, damaging effects on learning and behavior and both physical and mental health.

Chronic or excessive activation of the body’s stress response systems, in the absence of the buffering protection of responsive human relationships, is known as “toxic stress.” The biological consequences of toxic stress on early brain development are no less real than the damaging effects of poor nutrition or exposure to lead. Early interventions in the first 2 to 3 years of life are profoundly important and can reduce the number and severity of adverse experiences and strengthen relationships that protect young children from the harmful effects of toxic stress.1

Human Brain Development: Synapse Formation Dependent on Early ExperiencesThe development that occurs during the first years of life is critically important for children’s well-being. During this period, the brain has maximum plasticity, and each experience shapes its growth. Exposure to chronic adversity in early life leads to toxic levels of stress and permanent changes to brain architecture. This has damaging effects on learning, behavior, physical, and mental health and ultimately limits future opportunities and perpetuates the cycle of poverty.


Development Quotient of Stunted Children Receiving Nutrition Supplement Only, Early Stimulation Only, or Both

Evidence, like these results from a randomized control trial with student children in Jamaica, show that early childhood intervention that address stimulation in conjunction with nutrition and health services reap higher returns than either alone.



  1. Shonkoff , J.P. (2011). Presentation at the U.S. Government Evidence Summit on Protecting Children Outside of Family Care, Washington, D.C.

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