Ensuring an equitable start for all babies requires understanding the influence of race, ethnicity, and racism in the lives of babies and families. As a result of the longstanding history of systemic racism and marginalization in the United States, babies in communities of color, particularly Black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native infants and toddlers, are disproportionately at risk for poorer outcomes in each of ZERO TO THREE’s policy framework domains of well-being that are essential for healthy development—Good Health, Strong Families, and Positive Early Learning Experiences.
When Illinois early childhood advocates were invited to join the push for reforms in social equity pillars outlined by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, they already had a list of requests that had been waiting for just this opportunity. Thanks to their previous deep thinking about equity in the state early childhood system, their provisions were included in the legislation. In March 2021, Illinois Governor, JB Pritzker, signed the historic legislative package designed to eliminate sources of systemic racism and advance more equitable practices in multiple areas. In total, the bills address health, education, criminal justice reform, and economic development. Provisions of the education bill recognize that policies that improve access to key early childhood services and supports help to ensure equity. In particular, the Education and Workforce Equity Act (Start Early, 2021) established the Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health Consultations Act, which increased the availability of infant/early childhood mental health consultation services in the state and required behavioral health services providers to use DC:0–5TM (ZERO TO THREE, 2016) diagnostic codes for children under 5 years old. In addition, the bill established the Early Childhood Workforce Act which provides targeted supports to those interested in increasing their credentials, while prioritizing diversity of the workforce and communities experiencing the greatest shortages. The bill also extended Part C early intervention services to 3-year-olds until their next school year begins, minimizing gaps in services and increasing continuity of care. Finally, the bill calls for specialized teams, an innovation in service delivery, that will focus on underserved populations—those experiencing homelessness or in the child welfare system, among others. The Illinois Health Care and Human Services Reform Act, the bill reflecting the health pillar, expanded Medicaid to cover doula and home visiting services, enacted a training requirement about trauma for child care providers, and created The Racial Impact note that will allow lawmakers to request an analysis of how proposed legislation may impact people and communities of color. The success of this unexpected and fast-moving legislation speaks to the value of advocates working now to determine where they want to go to create equitable systems for babies and their families, even without a current clear path to move the work forward.
To learn more about addressing bias and advancing equity in state policy read 23here.