Hennepin County social workers, librarians and others are gathering today to learn more about how young children's brains develop.
The county is working with University of Minnesota researchers to apply their findings to the service providers' daily interactions with children and their families.
Megan Gunnar, who directs the university's Institute of Child Development, said brain development in the first few years of life is critical.
"The experiences children have literally sculpt the way the brain is developing. We've known for many years that the experiences you have affect your behavior, but we're increasingly understanding how very powerful even relatively small variations in experiences are for the way the brain architecture is actually formed during those years," she said.
Gunnar said formative childhood experiences could include being frightened when parents fight.
University of Minnesota researchers hope the new partnership with Hennepin County will help raise awareness about children's brain development.
Gunnar said people still hold many myths about how certain incidents impact babies' brains.
"They don't remember so it can't have much effect on them, which we now know is absolutely false. They may not remember, but it can have significant effects. It can be built into the architecture of the brain," she said. "We have the belief that young children are very resilient. Well they are, but they are at the same time also very vulnerable. Kids don't all just bounce back."
Gunnar said young children need access to nutritious foods, safe and secure relationships with caretakers, stimulating activities and a language-rich environment.