Series draws on neuroscience studies to link infant support and adult success

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Four-month old Johely Calixto and her parents visit her pediatrician in the new public TV documentary series The Raising of America, which examines the strong ties between a well-supported infancy and success in later life. (Photo: California Newsreel)

The Raising of America: Early Childhood and the Future of Our Nation, a five-part documentary series premiering on public television this month, uses neuroscience to make a case that conditions in early childhood directly affect developing brains and later success in life.

The project, more than six years in the making and with community screenings sponsored by 600 partners nationwide, is “the first documentary series to translate these scientific findings into compelling stories that challenge how parents, providers, policymakers and the public think about society’s interest and responsibilities in these first crucial years,” producer California Newsreel said in the series announcement. The nonprofit documentary production center in San Francisco was founded in 1968 and concentrates on social justice issues.

Raising of America grew out of California Newsreel’s duPont-Columbia Award-winning 2008 PBS series Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?, which uncovered striking racial and socioeconomic differences in healthcare. Those episodes screened in more than 25,000 forums during the 18 months following the series’ broadcast premiere.

During those screenings, producers learned about growing neuroscientific evidence that supportive experiences in infancy directly correlate with healthy and productive adulthoods. Researchers urged producers that their next project should “scrutinize the early years,” especially the interrelated influences of policies, parents, caregivers and communities to provide babies with a strong start, the announcement said.

California Newsreel conducted a needs assessment that showed that the many studies examining those issues “are strong, and they are persuasive” but have yet to reach the media, it said.

The Raising of America episodes weave parents’ stories with neuroscience findings and expert interviews. A website provides ways for viewers to get involved.

Project funding is provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the California Endowment and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Partners include CPB’s American Graduate dropout prevention initiative.

The presenting station is Twin Cities Public Television, with distribution by American Public Television. APT reports that so far the premiere is scheduled to air 61 times this month. Of the stations scheduling the program, 48 percent are in the top 50 markets.

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