Cradle to K Cabinet plan advances

Public forums on the plan will be held on Tuesday and Thursday.

Ethan Nelson

A group of University of Minnesota researchers and city officials are working to address developmental and educational disparities among Minneapolis children, and after a year of work, they’re seeking the public’s input.

The group, the Cradle to K Cabinet, formed recommendations to improve the health and education of Minneapolis children before they start school. The public can comment on them this week, and cabinet members are presenting them to a city committee on Monday.

The recommendations were released in January and are largely based on University research.

The group, which includes three University professors, was formed in May by Mayor Betsy Hodges. The cabinet’s initial report laid out a number of ways it could secure funding to meet its goals, which some group members said could be a challenge.

“I think there’s a lot of movement, nationally, towards recognizing that this is a wise place to put resources,” said Aaron Sojourner, an assistant professor at the Carlson School of Management and cabinet member.

Sojourner said investments to programs that benefit children’s education once they are in school are often prioritized, while those that cater to children under five are sometimes overlooked.

Megan Gunnar, a University child development professor and director of the Institute of Child Development, said making investments that benefit children’s development beginning at conception is important to overall health conditions.

“If you start investing at three, you’re already playing catch-up,” she said.

Among the group’s list of recommendations includes a citywide goal to reduce the infant mortality rate of African-American babies by 40 percent. Currently, that number is 10.3 percent. The plan also wants to increase early-childhood screening for mental illnesses. Between 2013 and 2014, only 24 percent of 3-year-olds were screened.

In addition, Sojourner said the group wants to provide more funding to low-income families and expand stable housing options. He said children’s socioeconomic situations have a large impact on their development and education.

“The opportunity gap is what we see,” Sojourner said. “It’s not inherent.”

Investing in prenatal care can also improve mental and emotional health in young children, said cabinet member Art Rolnick, co-director of the Human Capital Research Collaborative at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

Gunnar’s and Sojourner’s research were cited in the cabinet’s draft plan.

Gunnar’s research focuses on the well-being of adopted children. She said, typically, children adopted before the age of two by financially-stable families have an increased risk of developing behavioral problems.

Members of the cabinet will present the recommendations to the City Council’s health, environment and community engagement committee on Monday.

The cabinet will also hold public forums on Tuesday and Thursday and will release a final report in the spring after the comment period concludes.

“I think it’s an opportunity for the city to come together,” Sojourner said.