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In order to survive and thrive, babies need strong, dependable families with steady incomes, healthy food, good childcare, positive learning experiences and access to good healthcare. But, as new study shows, it is not enough. They have to be born and raised, at least until they are 3-years-old, in the right state.
Nonprofit early childhood development organization ZERO TO THREE and nonpartisan research organization Child Trends released a report on February 26th called The State of Babies Yearbook: 2019. It provides valuable data concerning the well-being of U.S. babies.
According to the report, in many states, young children face constant hardships that have a negative influence on each child’s ability to grow and develop properly. Insufficient food, unstable housing, and being exposed to violence are only a few of these hardships children have to overcome. 45 percent of infants and toddlers live in poor or low-income households, in which their basic needs are not met on a regular basis.
Forming more than 1 million new neural connections every second, a baby’s brain develops faster between ages 0 to 3 than at any later point in life. When babies have good health, strong families, and positive early learning experiences, those connections are stimulated and strengthened, laying a strong foundation for the rest of their lives. When babies don’t have the support they need to grow and thrive, their development suffers, leading to lifelong developmental, educational, social and health consequences.
“The first three years of life will shape every year that follows, and development during this time has an enormous impact on how a child learns and grows throughout his or her lifetime,” said Myra Jones-Taylor, chief policy officer at ZERO TO THREE. “Rather than labeling babies ‘at-risk,’ we should stamp ‘unlimited potential’ on each tiny onesie to change the frame for policymaking.”
The State of Babies Yearbook: 2019 finds that America is home to 12 million infants and toddlers. The report compiles nearly 60 indicators—specifically for children ages 0 to 3—and groups them under three headings with separate scores: Good Health, Strong Families and Positive Early Learning Experiences. Noteworthy differences among states exist in these indicators.
In general, states in the Northeast ranked the highest across measures, while those in the South ranked near the bottom.
“While all states have room to grow, some are doing better to help give our youngest children a strong start in life,” said Sarah Daily, a lead researcher for the Yearbook and a senior research scientist at Child Trends. “The Yearbook is a critical resource states can use to make sure their policies and programs are working to provide optimal outcomes for infants and toddlers.”
Rankings for the report are expressed using the word “GROW.” The lowest ranking on any of the measures is G, for “getting started,” then GR for “reaching forward.” States who do better than that are ranked GRO for “improving outcomes.” The best score is GROW, the W representing “working effectively.”
Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont were the only states to earn the full GROW ranking in all three measures.
Thirteen states got the lowest overall ranking, G: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky. Mississippi, Nevada, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming.
Illinois is home to 465,358 infants and toddlers, representing 3.6 percent of the state’s population. As many as 41 percent live in households with incomes less than twice the federal poverty level (in 2017, about $50,000 a year for a family of four), placing them at economic disadvantage. America’s youngest children are diverse and are raised in a variety of family contexts. A broad array of policies and services are required to ensure that all of them have an equitable start in life.
The United States needs more children, since its birth rate of 1.7 children per woman of childbearing age, is below the replacement rate of 2.1. Of course, having children is not enough, they need to be healthy, well fed, and well cared for, thus having the best chances to grow into dependable, successful adults.
Data from the report proves beyond any doubt that the nation has to invest more in its children, if it is to have a future. And the state of Illinois must also step up its game.
“We have to look at where are investments that need it the most and I think child care assistance is one of those,” said Janice Moenster, director of early childhood services at Children’s Home and Aid.
If solutions to make Illinois a better place for children to be born in are not found and implemented at a rapid pace, consequences can be dreary.
As a consequence of undernourishment, insufficient early education and poor housing, as well as other challenges, the report says, “these children may fall behind early, lag in later education and earnings achievements and experience health problems later in life or even have a shorter lifespan.”
“Our work is rooted in the belief that every child deserves to live the best, healthiest life possible,” said Jamie Bussel, senior program officer at the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, one of the child advocates who spoke at the event revealing the report results. Bussel added that families need “enough paid family leave to bond” and caregivers who have experienced trauma need support. “That’s the recipe to help not just children, but their families thrive”, she added.
Bussel and others reiterated the need to work with communities — families and policymakers included — to be sure that “no babies start and stay behind because of where they live.”
“There is no better way to predict the future of our nation than to look at how we are treating our babies today. It is a bundle of unlimited potential. We cannot afford to squander that,” Jones-Taylor said.
ZERO TO THREE works to ensure all infants and toddlers benefit from the family and community connections critical to their well-being and development. Since 1977, the organization has advanced the proven power of nurturing relationships by transforming the science of early childhood into helpful resources, practical tools and responsive policies for millions of parents, professionals and policymakers.
ZERO TO THREE created the Think Babies campaign to make the potential of every baby a national priority. When we Think Babies and invest in infants, toddlers, and their families, we ensure a strong future for us all.