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2019 | 2018 | 2017

By Sarah Weihert

After talking to community members, Tina Crave, president and CEO of the foundation says they found out the foundation for lifelong health and success begins during pregnancy and the earliest years of life. Ninety percent of brain development happens during the first three years of life.

Strong and healthy relationships with caring adults is critical for children to thrive and the lack of those relationships or prolonged stress in a child's life because of emotional abuse or neglect can have a lifelong impact.

Every Child Thrives kicked off in the spring and is a collective of community members using their talents to use data to drive decisions and aligning resources to support what works.

The initial scope will include children ages prenatal through third grade and their families located in the Watertown and Dodgeland school districts. The initiative will look to drive long-term change in three areas:

  • All children healthy, increasing opportunities for positive social and emotional development to promote health and resiliency.
  • All children ready for school, children are physically, academically, socially and emotionally ready for kindergarten.
  • All children succeed in school, all children will be reading at grade level by third grade.

"Every Child Thrives will provide parents, families and organizations with the tools to help nurture children's minds," Crave said. "Every Child Thrives will also work to empower parents, helping them succeed as a child's first teacher."

The initiative will work to do early developmental screening and combat chronic absenteeism in schools. "These programs are key to improving children's health, reducing abuse and neglect and increasing readiness for school."

Every Child Thrives does not need money from volunteers.

"The good news is we are not asking for your money. We are simply asking if we can count on you to show your support for the work of Every Child Thrives," said Annette Thompson, Dodgeland superintendent. "That means that every child in Dodge and Jefferson counties will be given the opportunity to realize his or her full potential."

By Sarah Weihert

"There is no app better than your lap," says Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, an associate professor of pediatrics at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health who practices primary care pediatrists, during the Healthy Child, Thriving Communities-Tomorrow's Workforce Develops Today event Monday morning at Turner Hall.

Navsaria was one of three speakers at the event discussing the impact of early childhood on lifelong health and occupational success. "Today we hope to engage your hearts and minds by investing in our children," said Tina Crave, president and CEO, Watertown Community Health Foundation. "The seed for Every Child Thrives was born when our foundation began to work with partners to begin to assess community needs."

The foundation is spearheading the Every Child Thrives movement in the area. After speaking with hundreds of people in Jefferson and Dodge counties, the foundation learned some staggering statistics. The cost of living for a family of four in the area is $59,000 a year. That number includes only the basics: food, housing, health care and child care.

"Forty to 60 percent of our working families have incomes that are lower than the cost of living in our community, which presents all sorts of challenges for them."

Fewer than one-third of children from economically disadvantaged families are reading proficiently in third grade. "Third grade reading proficiency is a routine predictor of both academic and career success. It is also a statistic that the U.S. government uses to predict future prison capacity."

Rates of child abuse and neglect have also risen by 30 percent over the last two years.

These socioeconomic factors are causing businesses to be short the skilled workforce they need. Further complicating the problem, over the next 20 years, the number of baby boomers leaving the workforce is significantly greater than the number of young people entering the workforce.

"With flat population growth predicted, Dodge County will experience a 10 percent decrease in our working age population," Crave said.

The other problem is readiness to enter the workforce.

"What percentage of Wisconsinites between the ages of 18 and 24 are not qualified to join the military, either because they don't meet the academic or fitness requirements or because they have an unacceptable criminal record," Crave asked.

Seventy-one percent of young Americans are not qualified to join the military, she answered.

"If 71 percent of our young folks are not qualified to join the military, how many of them are qualified to be employees or leaders in your companies?"

Child care in Dodge and Jefferson counties is at 98 percent capacity.

"How many workers are we losing because child care is either too expensive or is not at all available?"

How are children going to get the start they need to be successful future citizens, parents and employees? That's the question the initiative hopes to answer.

"We need every single one of our children to succeed so that our community and our businesses can thrive and prosper into the future," she said.

The Greater Watertown Community Health Foundation will provide the financial backing for the Every Child Thrives movement for five years. The partnership plans to initially serve the areas of the Dodgeland and Watertown school districts and has a vision of, "Every child thrives in health, learning and life," and a mission to "Engaging business, government, education, families and community partners to ensure that every child thrives."

The initiative has already garnered the attention of over 100 individuals and organizations in the area.

Navsaria, who has a degree in public health and is trained as a children's librarian, discussed the science of the brain and early childhood development and what happens when things don't go right for children early on in their life.

"Children are the future citizens. They are your future employees, your future employers, your future inventors. This is what their future holds ideally, so when we don't invest in the infrastructure of the early brain we are basically saying we don't think our society has a future," he said.

Brains are built over time but the first 1,000 days of life until a child is 3 years old are very important, Navsaria said.

"I don't want anyone to walk out of here thinking it's over and there is nothing you can do. Adolescents can change, young adults can change, even older adults can change. Is it a lot harder? Yes it is. There is not as much brain elasticity. It takes a lot more effort and a lot more work, but it is possible."

Where a child lives and who is around them play a big factor in how they develop. Experiences also play a factor in development.

"It is through relationships and connections with people not products that drive development. There is nothing a screen does for a child under 2 years of age, so don't put your kids in front of educational videos and apps. As one of my colleagues says, ‘There is no app to replace your lap.' They need to interact with people and that is what drives development."

Navsaria referenced a study where a mother plays and interacts with her baby and then for two minutes sits with the baby with a straight face, not responding to the baby's cues.

Navsaria says he doesn't believe there are parents anywhere who don't care about their children, or want what's best for their children.

"I think that's a universal. We think of this back-and-forth interaction as being natural or instinctual, but that's learned behavior. We learned it by watching other people around us doing it, so if you grew up in an environment where people aren't doing that how are you going to know to do it."

The doctor says in the last five years of his practice he has never found a parent who didn't know they should talk to and read to their child, but if it's not something they learned growing up it may start to feel awkward. "Are you saying the right things? What are you supposed to say? Maybe you aren't saying the right things. You didn't do so well in school, you struggled, you aren't going to tell your baby the right things, you are going to mess them up and they will turn out like you. Maybe they are better off in front of this learning DVD made by educators. You see how the parental self doubt can feed on itself?"

The brains of children who face adversity in their lives also change.

"There is no pill to fix this. That's why I'm here talking to you today. If we can catch it early on we can help these children," Navsaria said. "This is a problem not just for them or their family or community. It's a problem for all of us, which one of these kids under the right conditions would have thrived and figured out something that would help us all like a cure for cancer or Alzheimer's or how to get to Mars or world peace or something like that." Navsaria suggests making the solutions easy for parents, build parental capabilities, address the root cause and to use evidence guided solutions. He used the example of the organization Reach Out and Read, which gives away books and encourages parents to read to their children every day.

The organization gives parents the tool to build their capacity to engage with their children and helps to buffer toxic stress in their lives and improve their relationship with their children.

"We need to remember talent is equally distributed throughout our population but opportunity is not."

Navsaria showed the crowd a picture of his wife reading to their son many years ago and said it reminds him of the importance of those interactions.

"Children are made readers in the laps of their parents, and parents are their child's first and best teachers. We need to support parents in that role," he said.

Watertown High School alumnus Rob Grunewald, economist, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, discussed the high economic return of investing in early childhood opportunities.

Grunewald discussed a study from the 1960s that looked at investing in preschool education and whether that would reduce the need for special education, which is more expensive.

"They selected 123 children randomly, from low income families, to either receive the preschool or be in a control group for comparison," Grunewald said.

The students had a high quality experience at the preschool and the study followed the participants to the age of 40. The graduation rate of those who went to the preschool was higher and there was a reduction in the need for special education. Other notable differences in the two groups were homeownership rates were higher.

Grunewald says those who attended the preschool had higher paying jobs, contributed more taxes to society and had a reduction in incarceration.

The benefit to cost ratio is up to $16 returned for every $1 invested in sending the child to preschool, which in today's dollars cost $11,000.

Another study showed among the children's mothers there was stabilization of income and reduction in social welfare cost.

"When there is high quality child care system it allows parents to go to work and they are not worried about their child care arrangements during the day. There is less absenteeism and turnover which is a benefit to businesses. "Investing in our children is not free, but research shows that 10 or 15 years down the road it will pay off," he said.

Manufacturers and other skilled trades have been having a hard time finding quality workers for the last several years.

"If employers are struggling to find people today, it's going to get worse by 2020 and peak by 2025," said S. Mark Tyler, president OEM Fabricators, Inc. in Woodsville. "One of the problems we faced is back in the 1980s, we needed more four-year graduates, unfortunately the approach we took to getting people think about going to the universities, we demonized the trades. We basically said if you have a suit and an office and you work with your brain and not your back, you are a success, and if you don't then you're not." Tyler told the crowd it's important to implement career planning for high school students. He told the story of a student who was told to follow her passion, which was anthropology. She went to school, studied and graduated with a bachelor's degree, but she couldn't find a job. She ended up going to a trade school to become a welder and now is gainfully employed. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, plumbers make over $68,000 a year whereas a professor with a PhD makes $65,000.

"I'm not beating up on fouryear degrees, we need more than what we have, but we need to be honest about where the opportunities are."

Tyler said honest discussions need to take place.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates more than half of careers in the future are going to need more than high school but less than a bachelor's degree, but the need for bachelor's degrees is also increasing. What that tells us is everybody will need education beyond high school. Right now the demand is in STEM careers.

About 36 percent of students are graduating from some kind of college but the need is more like 95 percent, Tyler said. He also said in Wisconsin incarceration rates are so high they are costing taxpayers almost $1 billion a year. "That billion dollars would probably do what we need to do in early childhood. I don't know that we will ever be able to get away entirely from incarceration, but that is a good pot of money we could access."

Although companies and company leaders know the answer to the workforce problem is in early childhood, Tyler says the message has not reached lawmakers.

"We have to get the message to lawmakers this is something we need if for nothing else than an least an economic perspective to support our workforce."

Tyler said even if a person is not involved in this movement there is something everyone can do.

"When you engage with a child the best way to teach is talk, read, play and sing," he said.

Businesses need employees who are job-ready, team-capable and well-prepared. Every Child Thrives, a new collaborative effort in Dodge and Jefferson counties, invites business and community leaders to learn the impact investments in children have on the strength of a workforce and vitality of a community.

The program Healthy Child, Thriving Communities - Tomorrow's Workforce Develops Today, features three nationally recognized speakers, and will be held on Monday, Dec. 11, 8-10 a.m., at Turner Hall in Watertown. To register for this free breakfast program, visit watertownhealthfoundation. com. Registration is required by Monday, Dec. 4.

"In our region the need for quality employees is greater than ever," said Watertown Mayor John David. "I've recently learned we have more than 400 jobs available in Watertown alone. We can no longer afford to take a reactive stance when it comes to workforce. We must be proactive in ensuring each and every child develops the skills needed for our community to prosper into the future."

Ready Nation, a national collaboration of business executives working to build a skilled workforce by preparing children to succeed, reports employers are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit workers with employability skills such as listening carefully, managing emotions and working well on a team. These skills are developed in childhood and are difficult to change as an adult.

Nate Salas, president, Partnership Bank, sees this issue first-hand. Too many local businesses are scaling back on expansion plans because they're unable to find workers who are reliable and have the problem-solving skills needed in today's business climate," he said.

The program will describe the impact that early experiences have on lifelong health, occupational success and community vitality. Featured speakers are:

  • Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, UW School of Medicine and Public Health, "Early Experiences Elevate Everything." An associate professor of pediatrics, Navsaria practices primary care pediatrics and is the founding medical director of Reach Out and Read Wisconsin. He regularly writes op-eds on healthrelated topics, does radio and television interviews, and speaks locally, regionally and nationally on early brain and child development, early literacy, and advocacy to a broad variety of audiences.

  • Rob Grunewald, economist, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, "The Economic Impact of Investing Early." A graduate of Watertown High School, Grunewald coauthored "Early Childhood Development: Economic Development with a High Public Return" and has written several subsequent articles on the economic and social impact of early learning. He frequently speaks to community and business leaders, policymakers and media throughout the United States and has served on boards and advisory committees for organizations involved with early childhood development, including Think Small: Leaders in Early Learning, First Children's Finance, and the Minnesota Visiting Nurse Agency.

  • S. Mark Tyler, president, OEM Fabricators, Inc., "Skills Gap and Next Gen Workforce." Tyler is founder and president of OEM Fabricators, Inc., a growing contract manufacturer in western Wisconsin. He is a regent with the University of Wisconsin and serves on the Wisconsin Technical College System and the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Boards. He chairs the Governor's Council on Workforce Investment and the Business Committee of Success by Six of the St. Croix Valley. He also serves on the Governor's Early Childhood Advisory Council.

Carol Quest, Watertown Department of Public Health director and Greater Watertown Community Health Foundation chairwoman, said the goal for the event is to engage business and community leaders to help ensure our community effectively supports children and their families. "Many factors affect the development of solid character skills and a strong workforce, and early childhood investments rank among the most important," she explained.

Quest stressed the importance of high-quality, early learning opportunities for all children, adding that in our region only 34 percent of children from economically disadvantaged families are reading proficiently by third grad. "This is significant when it comes to economic development because we know these children are much more likely to drop out of school, leaving them unprepared to enter the workforce," she said.

"When children don't get off to the right start in life, it's hard for them to catch up and become the productive adults we need. Society and businesses suffer when we let kids slip through the cracks. Working together as a community, we have the means to help our children become healthy, contributing adults," she added.

Launched earlier this summer, Every Child Thrives works to ensure that every child has the early experiences necessary to thrive in learning, in work and in life. It is supported by 30 individual agencies across Dodge and Jefferson counties.

The Greater Watertown Community Health Foundation provides the backbone support for Every Child Thrives. The GWCHF was formed out of the 2015 joint venture between Watertown Regional Medical Center and LifePoint Health and is an independent nonprofit that invests invests in creating health in the community. The mission of the foundation is to inspire collaboration, mobilize resources and encourage innovation that measurably contributes to the wellbeing of our communities. To learn more about the GWCHF and Every Child Thrives, visit watertownhealthfoundation. com.