Helping Every Child Have a Bed to Sleep In, Food in the Tummy and a Chance to Learn

By:  Marsha BasloeChildren on the ground in a circle

Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary and Interdepartmental Liaison for Early Childhood Development


When I was growing up, my dad would always tell us to do our best.  He said we had the tools – a bed to sleep in every night, food in our tummies, regular checkups and a chance to learn. Our job was to always try our best.

I have to admit that that was a very long time ago! My dad’s gone now but he lived into his 90’s going to work until his last 6 months instilling in us a strong work ethic and a responsibility to help people be successful.  So many years later, I know that dad’s basic philosophy was right on target.

I work for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the United States government's principal agency for protecting the health of all Americans and providing essential human services, especially for those who are least able to help themselves.  As a part of the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), a division of HHS, we promote the economic and social well-being of families, children, individuals and communities.

It’s not surprising that in this role at the Office of Early Childhood and in earlier roles, I am passionate about investing in the early years.

But I am joined in this passion by Nobel Prize winning economists, high ranking analysts at the Federal Reserve Bank and researchers at national institutions. And with all this information, I am thrilled that President Obama is solidly working to invest in the first five years of life.

Research indicates that the early years present an unparalleled opportunity for learning and skill development because the young growing brain is so receptive. Early skills that help children think critically, express themselves, build confidence, and problem solve, are the basis for the development of academic skills, such as reading, writing, and math.

The research is truly compelling and we know some important basic facts:

  • The importance of the early years: skills beget skills[1]
  • Brains are built over time and the early years of life is disproportionately important to the sum of a person’s cognitive development and social behavior.
  • Children who have a high-quality early learning experience are more likely to do well in school and in life.
  • Toxic stress in early childhood persists and can have lasting effects on development including problems in learning, behavior and physical and mental health.


Today, we get to work on the basic principles my dad taught me and this work aligns with all we know about what it takes to do our best.

“A bed to sleep in and food in our tummies”

  • Meetings on early childhood are taking place as part of the Interagency Workgroup on Ending Family Homelessness.  Ensuring the well-being of our youngest children is essential to our work and is especially urgent when considering the vulnerability of young children experiencing homelessness. In the United States, more than 1.6 million children, many under the age of six, live on the streets, in homeless shelters, in campgrounds, temporarily doubled up with others, or are otherwise without a stable home.
  • A friend sent me an annual report from Share our Strength’s No Kid Hungry work and its Cooking Matters effort to surround children with healthy food where they live and play. That came the day I read “Too Hungry to Learn: Food Insecurity and School Readiness.” Did you know that food insecurity can damage children’s health and brain development? The early years are when the brain is so receptive and it needs nourishment!

“Regular checkups”

  • We’ve been working on materials for child care and families on the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Lack of health insurance is a significant driver of disparities in both health outcomes and educational attainment.  Regardless of income, children who have health insurance generally have better health throughout their childhood and into their teens.  Uninsured, low income children are more likely to go without immunizations, have poor access to primary care, maintain higher rates of emergency care usage, and miss school more often because of recurring illnesses such as ear infections and asthma.
  • All children need regular checkups to ensure their growth and development is on track. (I will mention that adults need this too!)

“A chance to learn”   

  • A lot is happening at ACF around high quality early learning including preparing for the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) competition, and my team is part of this effort.  RTT-ELC grants focus on improving early learning and development programs for young children to close the achievement gap for children with high needs.
  • State Advisory Council grants are coming to a close and rich reports of efforts to meet early childhood strategic goals were beginning to come in. We’ve worked with these groups working on early childhood systems that optimize childhood service delivery so that children arrive at school ready to learn. The systems are to ensure that every child has a chance to learn.
  • The U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions took another step toward seeing through the reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG). CCDBG, administered by the Office of Child Care (OCC) at ACF is a block grant made available annually to States, territories, and tribes to support low-income working families through child care financial assistance and to promote children’s learning by improving the quality of early care and education and afterschool programs. The fund provides financial assistance for child care to approximately 1.6 million children every month.
  • Head Start (with Early Head Start),  a comprehensive child development program at ACF that serves children from birth to age five, pregnant women, and their families is a child-focused program with the overall goal of increasing the school readiness of young children in low-income families. There are approximately 1,700 grantees across all programs serving around 1 million children. 


We are always trying to do our best.  I hope with these continued efforts and the support of both public and private partners, someday all children will have a bed to sleep in, food in their tummies, regular checkups and a chance to learn.

Actually, my dad was pretty smart.


[1] The Heckman Equation, presentation to ReadyNation National Business Leaders Summit, September 23, 2013