Every statistic shows Andrea Silva that her child is in danger.
Alicia, not yet 2 years old, was born out of wedlock. To a single mother. Who lives in Newark, where nearly half the kids don’t graduate high school.
Silva arrived here from Brazil speaking little English and knowing no one. She got trapped in a bad relationship, gave birth to Alicia, then lost her job and apartment in a debilitating bout of postpartum depression. When she looked into her new baby’s face, only two thoughts came to mind: “What kind of father have I given you?” and “What kind of mother am I?”
This is where poverty starts. It has many causes: lack of education, unemployment, violence, drugs. But parenting has a major effect, too. Kids born to parents who can’t cope or don’t know how to raise them don’t have great prospects in life. They’re more likely to repeat grades in school, drop out before graduating and wind up in prison or homeless.
In Europe, this is addressed with routine home visits by public health nurses to mothers with newborns. But in the United States, which has a higher teenage pregnancy rate and more single moms, such visits are spotty at best.
Preschool is another way to intervene. Yet we invest far less in this than other developed nations do, reaching only a small percentage of needy families without always ensuring quality.
When done right, early childhood programs have shown promising success. They give poor kids a leg up, which helps them make better choices later in life. In Newark, we visited one program that starts at birth, to see what it’s all about.
Newark’s Ironbound community already had a preschool with a strong reputation. But intervening at age 3 isn’t early enough, experts say. So the preschool expanded to include a “zero to 3” component for mothers such as Silva whose kids are still babies or have yet to be born.
It’s no ordinary day care. What looks like simple child’s play — painting pumpkins, running up and down ramps outside — is...