The American dream of upward mobility is a myth for many people, as recent studies show children born into poor families tend to stay poor their whole lives and pass that poverty on to the next generation.

A recent study by researchers at Harvard and Berkeley showed that upward mobility in the U.S. has stagnated since the 1950s, with 70 percent of those born into low-income families never making it into the middle class. Fortunately, studies also show there is a way to break this cycle of poverty by investing in the early education of children.

Children need support and protection as they grow and develop, says Jacqueline Jones, CEO of the Foundation for Child Development. She will be the keynote speaker at the Princeton Area Community Foundation’s upcoming event, “Thriving Women, Thriving Communities: Breaking the Cycle of Poverty Through Early Investment in Our Children,” on Friday, May 5, at 11:45 a.m. at the Mercer Oaks Golf Course in West Windsor. Tickets are $40. For more information, visit www.pacf.org/events.

Jones and other panelists will discuss the crucial importance of early childhood on the social, emotional, and economic well-being of women and girls. High-quality programs designed for disadvantaged children between the ages of birth and five “can deliver a 13 percent per child, per year return on investment through better outcomes in education, health, social behaviors, and employment,” according to the Heckman Equation.

The Heckman Equation, created by Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman, is a calculation showing how early childhood education benefits everyone, not just those who receive it: whatever money the government spends on early education, it will save down the road when it doesn’t have to spend money on social programs or jail.

Jones has worked at the highest levels of government on the problem of how to deliver this crucial early childhood education. Before working for the foundation, Jones served as the country’s first deputy assistant secretary for policy and early learning in the U.S. Department of Education during the Obama administration.

Founded more than 100 years ago, the Foundation for Child Development is devoted to the well being of young children and their families. The foundation defines early development as the time from birth until age eight.

In the past, the foundation has supported research on children of immigrant families.

“Now we are turning our agenda to a closer look at the adults who work with young children, and trying to figure out how we can support and increase our understanding of the early work force, how we can support them,” Jones says.

The New York-based foundation is national in scope and always works to support research that has an impact on public policy, particularly those that concern the workforce.

“My perspective is broad and looking at a national level, but the work at the foundation is to take that perspective and see how we can fund work that will support children and families,” Jones says.

Jones expects a range of attendees, from people whose work involves implementing changes in public policy to those who are simply interested in the topic and research. One important goal of the Foundation of Child Development is to conduct and translate research with large audiences, Jones says. This leads to implementing new programs and improving the quality of already existing ones.

The event is organized and put on by the Fund for Women and Girls, a group that works to improve the lives of economically vulnerable women and girls throughout the greater Mercer County region.

In her talk, Jones will provide a broad overview of the state of early childhood in the country, along with the Foundation’s successes and challenges that still lie ahead.

“I want to highlight that investment in early childhood education is really a solid investment for the children and their success in school and in life,” Jones says. “It’s a solid investment in our communities, as we try to build strong citizens, and it’s a solid investment in families as they try to make sure they have the resources they need.”

Jones also stresses the importance of considering how adverse situations at home, like domestic violence or the implications of violence, can impact a child’s development.

“It’s starting early,” Jones says. “It’s not just teaching them the alphabet or how to count, but really protecting them from these adverse childhood experiences that can have an emotional and physiological impact on their development.”

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