On July 19, 2023, the Center for American Progress hosted an event titled “Health Equity in Early Childhood Policy” that facilitated a discussion about how policymakers can address inequality in health policy to create legislation that effectively serves all children. The panelists agreed that the most urgent need is to include community members in conversations dictating policy. Equality in children’s health begins with culturally sensitive policy.

Patty Cole, Senior Director of Federal Policy at Zero to Three, emphasized the importance of brain development in early childhood to later learning and health, and how social determinants of health impact the development process. Disparities in healthcare access and quality, economic stability, social and community context, education access and quality, and neighborhood and built environment can all contribute to negative outcomes later on. Ms. Cole acknowledges the need to use data (like Zero to Three’s State of Babies Yearbook, to illustrate major inequities to policymakers in an effort to address these social determinants of health and create policy that is responsive to these disparities.

Alex Briscoe, Principal of California Children’s Trust, shared his experiences working with the California state legislature on expanding community Medicaid benefits. Mr. Briscoe and his team primarily pushed for a transformation of Medicaid qualification, shifting away from medical necessity. He believes that experiences of discrimination, housing insecurity, and food instability should all be enough to qualify a child for Medicaid services, especially evidence-based, community-oriented programs.

Alycia Hardy, Senior Policy Analyst on Child Care and Early Education at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) offered an understanding of the need for equitable and inclusive data collection. Without these efforts, unintended harms are likely to occur, blaming communities for a lack of data even when the data collection methods are not conducive to their experiences, needs, preferences, and norms. Ms. Hardy highlighted the need to involve communities and individuals with lived experiences in all steps of the data collection process in an effort to obtain data that is relevant to the groups it aims to serve.

By Leah Sarfity, Policy Intern