The experience of the pandemic has laid bare what families already knew: Our systems for supporting the health and well-being of young children and families are threadbare to practically non-existent. Here is how we move forward.
ZERO TO THREE’s State of Babies Yearbook: 2020 revealed that, even before COVID-19 shook the world, families with young children faced challenges that put at risk many babies’ strong development, especially babies of color and those in families with low income. As the pandemic spread, these families experienced heightened health concerns, financial insecurity and material hardships from the economic downturn, a loss of supports such as child care, and mounting stress for both caregivers and children. As the crisis continues, the inadequate response to supporting young children and families in a time of immense social and economic stress creates the risk that the experience of the pandemic will be indelibly imprinted on the lives of our youngest children.
The first three years are a period of rapid brain development, when the brain develops 1 million neural connections every second. Babies’ relationships with trusted caregivers, usually their parents, are critical to shaping this development. The prolonged stress adults are feeling — economic deprivation and increasing insecurity in meeting basic needs such as food and shelter — means young children’s development is being shaped by conditions that if unaddressed could undermine this crucial foundation for all later learning and relationships.
This policy report brings together the landscape for babies and families before the pandemic as revealed in the State of Babies Yearbook: 2020 as well as observations on how they have been faring during the pandemic and economic upheaval, and the policy gaps that left families of color and with low income particularly vulnerable. Detailed discussions of COVID-19 Relief policies can be found in briefs outlining Five Critical Needs For Babies in COVID-19.
We now have an opportunity to build a more resilient, equitable health care system that can also be a gateway to more holistic support for young children and families.
Because the continuing pandemic means a slower economic recovery, additional aid to unemployed workers and their families is needed now. This assistance must also be followed by more durable economic and family-oriented policies that will create stronger supports for families.
As a nation, we are not emphasizing the ways early learning experiences support foundational development – through strong relationships and interactions with trusted adults.
For the 12 million infants and toddlers in the United States, these supports can make a big difference in their chances for a strong start in life. The littlest among us face big challenges. We can’t afford to squander their potential.
We invite you to explore the report and join us to Think BabiesTM to improve outcomes for babies and families across the nation.