The Raising of America is the first national, fully integrated media/public engagement project that aims to reframe the way Americans look at early child health and development.
The Raising of America Series is a five-part documentary series that explores the question: Why are so many children in America faring so poorly? What are the consequences for the nation’s future? How might we, as a nation, do better? The series investigates these questions through different lenses: What does science tell us about the enduring importance of early life experiences on the brain and body? What it is like to be a parent today? And what policies and structures help or hinder the raising of healthy, happy and compassionate children? The Signature Hour covers all three of these issues. The four subsequent episodes each dive in for a closer look.
A Note on Terminology
The Campaign—Sparking a National Conversation
The Raising of America Campaign films and resources are being used by hundreds of organizations concerned about the futures of young children and their families. Campaign Partners and others are holding community dialogs, policy forums, classes, trainings and other events to spark new conversations about what we as municipalities, states and the nation can do to make a strong start the birthright of every infant in the U.S, perhaps the most prudent investment any nation can make. Campaign Partners include both nationwide organizations with a broad reach and community organizations which dig in at the local level.
The Companion Website
The Raising of America Companion Website is the online, interactive hub for learning about the project and the issues. It provides interactive learning activities, discussion guides, toolkits, video clips, and background information. The website is also the go-to hub for resources to host effective screening events, and to link up with other organizations working to strengthen young children, families and communities.
What is the Series About?
Recent studies underscore repeatedly how a child’s earliest surroundings and interactions shape the developing brain, building the foundations for life-long emotional, intellectual and even physical health and development. Exposure to a nurturing or adverse environment in the early years affects how we think, feel and relate to others as we age, our capacities for empathy, impulse control and even love.
When parents are pressed for time, money and resources, their babies pay the price. Child well-being in the U.S. has fallen to 26th out of 29 rich nations. An increasing number of children grow up with learning, behavioral and physical health challenges. But our kids’ health is not all that’s at risk, researchers argue. By squeezing young families and under-investing in early childhood we are also under-developing America. If we want children to do better in school and in life—and the nation to prosper—we can’t wait until they enter kindergarten.
The studies are many, they are strong and they are persuasive. Yet little or no popular media until now have translated these scientific findings into a compelling new "story" capable of changing the way parents, practitioners, policy makers and the public think about society’s responsibilities and interest in these first crucial years. The conventional default explanations of child development—"good" vs. "bad" parents, genetics and cultural dysfunction—still predominate. Perhaps not coincidentally, little progress has been made in improving outcomes for America’s children.
The Raising of America seeks to spark a first-ever national conversation which asks: what can be done to better assure the conditions all babies and young children need to thrive? Will the U.S. squander its own future, or will it invest in its youngest children and their families?
EPISODE 1: THE RAISING OF AMERICA
The Signature Hour (58 min)
The Signature Hour interweaves discoveries from neuroscience with the stories of families and communities struggling to provide the nurturing environments all babies and young children need to thrive—while too often hindered by social conditions that put their children on low developmental paths. It reveals how stressors on parents can drip down on their infants and young children, literally altering the wiring of their developing brains with enduring effects. Why are so many children faring so poorly in the richest nation on the planet? How might we do better?
EPISODE 2: ONCE UPON A TIME
When Childcare for All Wasn’t Just a Fairy Tale (32 min)
Imagine how things might be different today if high-quality early care and education had been available to every family that wanted it for the past four decades. It almost happened!
EPISODE 3: ARE WE CRAZY ABOUT OUR KIDS?
Studies show that investing in high-quality early care and education pays for itself in many ways and many times over. So, why aren’t we investing?
EPISODE 4: WOUNDED PLACES
Confronting Childhood PTSD in America’s Shell-Shocked Cities (42 min)
Featuring Sandra L. Bloom, M.D, Dr. Theodore Corbin, Dr. John Rich
Traveling to Philadelphia and Oakland, this episode chronicles the stories of children shaken by violence and adversity and asks not “What’s wrong with you?” but “What happened to you?” and “How can traumatized children and neighborhoods heal?”
PTSD isn’t only about combat vets and survivors of natural disasters. Too many of our children, especially children of color living in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, show the effects of unrelenting structural racism, street violence, domestic instability and other adversities. And their symptoms look a lot like post-traumatic stress disorder. Except for many, there is no “post.”
Wounded Places travels to Philadelphia and Oakland where a long history of disinvestment and racial exclusion have ravaged entire neighborhoods and exposed children to multiple adverse childhood experiences (or ACEs). We meet families and some remarkable young people who have been traumatized not just by shootings, but fear, uncertainty and a sense of futurelessness.
As Stanford physician Victor Carrion explains, “If we are crossing the street and we see that a truck is coming at us, we can manage that situation, get scared, jump, and move quickly. Unfortunately, many children in our society feel like a truck is coming at them all day long, for more days than not, and this really takes a toll.”
We watch as Caheri Gutiérrez, Antonio Carter, Javier Arango and other young people wrestle with their hyper-vigilance, sudden rages, nightmares, inability to trust and difficulty concentrating in school. Now they themselves are counseling others, helping them to “own” their trauma. Yet police, teachers, the media, and even social service workers too often make things worse, pegging traumatized children not as injured and in need of healing but as “bad” or “impaired.”
For instance, in 2012 in Connecticut alone, 2,000 children aged six years and under—overwhelmingly black and Latino—were suspended from kindergarten and preschool, dramatically increasing their risk of eventually dropping out of school and being sent to prison.
We also meet doctors, community organizers and peer counselors blazing a new model of trauma-informed care, including MacArthur Fellow John Rich, MD, Ted Corbin, MD, the director of Healing Hurt People, Dr. Sandra Bloom, the founder of the Sanctuary Model, and Youth UpRising! director Olis Simmons.
Rather than ask, “What’s wrong with you?” they ask, “What happened to you?” and “How can traumatized individuals and neighborhoods heal?” The implications of this simple shift can be transformative—for those suffering from trauma, for neighborhoods and even for the providers themselves.
EPISODE 5: DNA IS NOT DESTINY
How the Outside Gets Under the Skin (35 min)
Discoveries in the exciting new field of epigenetics suggest that fetal and early child environments literally become part of us. They alter not our genes (they’re fixed) but the epigenetic volume controls which switch genes on and off—with enduring consequences for behaviors and mental and physical health.
The Raising of America is available on DVD and video streaming from California Newsreel at www.newsreel.org. The opening signature hour will be broadcast by public television stations beginning November 2015 (check local listings).
The Raising of America was produced by the San Francisco-based film production and distribution center, California Newsreel, in partnership with Vital Pictures of Boston.