Early Head Start and the ABC Project

by Megan Zhang

Toxic stress can significantly affect young children and can be harmful for healthy development of their cognitive functions. Evidence shows that exposure to toxic stress at a young age can disrupt the proper development of children’s brain functions and can increase the likelihood of being diagnosed with stress-related diseases later in life. But despite this, there are ways to buffer children from the consequences of toxic stress. NEL’s ABC Project, in partnership with Early Head Start, aims to study how.

What is Early Head Start?

Early Head Start is a federally funded program designed to help low-income families with infants and toddlers. The program aims to promote normal development in children and healthy functioning in families and to ensure school readiness for toddlers. To achieve this aim, Early Head Start provides comprehensive developmental services in the realms of education, health, social learning, and nutrition. Parents play an important role in the program, as both educators and participants.

What is the ABC Project?

Together with Early Head Start, NEL’s ABC Project aims to evaluate the beneficial role that Early Head Start can play in protecting children from the negative effects of toxic stress. Researchers from NEL visit the home of participants a few times a year to measure children’s executive functions and cognitive abilities through games and other activities. Heart rate measurements and saliva samples are collected, and parents fill out questionnaires about their children’s lives. Using this data, NEL can evaluate children’s development and track improvements in their cognitive and physiological functioning.

For more information on the ongoing project, click here.