Shaquita Ogletree

On Tuesday, February 26, 2019, Zero to Three and Child Trends held the Think Babies Policy Forum and announced the release of the State of Babies Yearbook: 2019.

“The first three years of a child’s life shape every year that follows, and the state where a baby is born makes a big difference in their chance for a strong start in life,” stated Myra Jones-Taylor from Zero to Three. Jamie Brussel, from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, echoed that theme saying, “Place matters and access to high-quality health care and child care matters.”

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and former Congressman Denny Rehberg (R-MT) launched the Congressional Baby Caucus several years ago hoping to focus on a broad range of areas, including nutrition and basic needs for babies; the effects of trauma; federal existing programs like Head Start and Child Care Development Block Grant and how well they are serving infants and toddlers. As a co-chair of the Baby Caucus, Congresswoman DeLauro said that Congress is liable for not doing our job if we do not listen to the research and studies that the formative years of a child’s life is the most important. She reiterated that every child should be our national responsibility, but most importantly a top priority of Congress.

Senator Steven Daines (R-MT) remarked about the State of Babies Yearbook and that Montana fared well due to parents reading to their children. He mentioned the opioid crisis and the impact on infants and babies sharing his recent visit to a residential program in Montana, where mothers, struggling with meth addiction can reside with their newborns.

The inaugural release of the State of Babies Yearbook: 2019 is a partnership between Zero to Three and Child Trends. Some key findings indicate the following:

• Four million babies will be born annually in the U.S.;
• More than half of the nation’s babies are children of color;
• Twenty-one percent of babies live with single parents;
• Nine percent of babies live with their grandparents; and
• Sixty percent of mothers are in the workforce.

The Yearbook illustrates how states are faring based on more than 60 indicators of well-being in Zero to Three’s policy framework areas. Each state is ranked based on one of the four-tier system: 1) Getting Started, 2) Reaching Forward, 3) Improving Outcomes, and 4) Working Effectively. Each state’s ranking can illustrate for state and local leaders’ actions that can be taken for babies, families, and the communities.

A panel discussion included Joshua Baker, South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, Diane Dellanno, Advocates for Children of New Jersey, Roderick Bremby, Connecticut Department of Social Services, moderated by Johnathan Cohn, the Huffington Post.

Dellanno discussed how her organization’s child care agenda for infants and toddlers last year focused on the need for new data. In New Jersey, there are no waiting lists for child care subsidy, but only 5 percent of parents are accessing the program. Dellanno’s discussed her organization’s study focused on the cost of quality centers and the number of child care centers in New Jersey for infants and toddlers. Findings indicated that it costs more for infants than toddlers in child care and that in New Jersey there were discrepancies between those who were listed as child care centers and those who accepted child care subsidy. The federal investment to the Child Care and Development Block Grant that increased funding by $2.3 billion in 2018 and 2019 has allowed New Jersey to provide two subsidy rate increases.

Bremby discussed the Baby Bundle initiative that focused on the City of Bridgeport, Connecticut. Data showed that 99.9 percent of children in public education were eligible for free and reduced lunch, 75 percent of three-year-olds entered Head Start behind developmentally, and 63 percent were Medicaid recipients. The readiness for Head Start was the indicator that the Baby Bundle initiative focused on. The collective impact model goal was that by 2018 all children born in Bridgeport would reach developmental milestones by the age of three years.

The discussion focused on strategies being used by states and how they are examining what babies and families need. These include looking at the data, speaking with parents and experts and using simple outreach in the places and spaces where families convene. In South Carolina, Baker shared how the Department of Health and Human Services purchase services from providers based upon babies and parent’s usage. Baker shared how partnering with pediatricians offices to engage families has been a proven strategy to meet the needs in his state. South Carolina, like many other states, is having some structural challenges to address.

Jones-Taylor closed by saying that no state is hitting all the indicators and there is room to GROW. She said that the 116th Congress must continue to use science to improve public policy opportunities for children in this country. (see the article after—CAPTA Reauthorization to examine how your state ranks)