In March 2023, the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child published its latest working paper, Place Matters: The Environment We Create Shapes the Foundations of Healthy Development. The principle that place matters is not new—caregivers, organizers, scientists, and communities, particularly Indigenous Peoples, have long understood how influences from the natural world impact us throughout our lives. The working paper establishes a framework to contribute to this longstanding body of knowledge, laying out what some of the emerging science tells us about the many ways in which children’s development is shaped by what surrounds them, including their built and natural environments.
The working paper also illuminates the stark disparities of place that many children are experiencing today. In particular, it emphasizes the unique environmental experiences of many Black and Latine children living in redlined communities and children living in poverty, underscoring the importance of ensuring equitable access to health-promoting influences from their built and natural environments. These environments have been shaped by policies and decisions designed over time, and they can be redesigned to support healthy development.
Given the importance of place in shaping child development, as well as the remarkable opportunity before us to improve the environments where caregivers are raising young children, we have launched a new group at the Center: the Early Childhood Scientific Council on Equity and the Environment (ECSCEE).
This group of researchers from diverse academic backgrounds will focus specifically on exploring connections between systemic factors and the inequities of place and health that are experienced by many children today. And with this deeper understanding, the ECSCEE’s goal is to bolster solutions to work toward achieving fairness of place for all children.
At its first meeting in summer 2023, the ECSCEE delved into the science of how heat affects children’s health and development, informed by voices and perspectives across various fields. With the ongoing challenges of extreme temperatures and poor air quality due to wildfires—the frequency and severity of which are also exacerbated by higher temperatures—improving our understanding of this topic feels both timely and crucial. The paper is set to publish in late 2023.
We’re excited about how this new Council will contribute to the myriad of efforts to improve the lives of children and their caregivers. For more information about the ECSCEE and its members, head to Early Childhood Scientific Council on Equity and the Environment.