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Parent Advocates from Across the Country to Tell Congress: It’s Time to Think Babies

strolling thunder crying out for change

Sixth annual Strolling Thunder to raise critical issues including paid leave, high-quality child care, and support for child welfare

Today, parent advocates from all 50 states and Washington, DC will meet virtually with their Members of Congress as part of the annual Strolling Thunder™ advocacy day. The event, now in its sixth year, is hosted by ZERO TO THREE, the nation’s leading early childhood development nonprofit dedicated to ensuring all babies and toddlers have a strong start in life. Families are welcoming their Members of Congress into their homes to share their experiences raising young children and to discuss what policies and programs are needed to help their babies thrive.

“Our nation is grappling for the third consecutive year with the impacts of the pandemic that has worsened inequities for babies and families of color and with low-incomes,” stated Miriam Calderón, chief policy officer at ZERO TO THREE. “Yet, our nation’s policymakers appear poised to move on without establishing family-focused policies that babies and families need to survive, recover, and prosper. I am grateful to the Strolling Thunder advocates for their efforts to call attention to the on-going and immediate stressors families are facing and demand action on a bold policy agenda. This is a critical moment for Congress to hear directly from families on how to make babies a national priority. Our future depends on it.”

Strolling Thunder has helped constituent families and their babies meet with their elected officials – from state capitals to Capitol Hill – since 2017. During these meetings, parent advocates share their experiences about raising young children and what they need to support their babies’ healthy development. The event is a cornerstone of ZERO TO THREE’s Think Babies™, a national movement and a call to action for policymakers to prioritize the needs of infants, toddlers, and their families and to invest in our nation’s future. Federal priorities include:

  • Increasing access to high-quality, affordable child care;
  • Creating a comprehensive, permanent national paid family and medical leave program;
  • Increasing investments in Early Head Start;
  • Increasing support for infant and early childhood mental health services;
  • Providing support to transform the child welfare system; and
  • Reinstating and making permanent the expanded Child Tax Credit.

Think Babies also supports advocacy organizations to advance infant-toddler priorities at the state level, including state Strolling Thunder events to focus on local legislative priorities.

Since its inception, Strolling Thunder has become one of the most anticipated advocacy events on Capitol Hill. The event has driven increased advocacy and political will for infant-toddler issues, drawing more than 6,500 families and advocates at events across the country and more than 700 visits with policymakers on both sides of the aisle.

During the meetings, advocates will use data from the recently released State of Babies Yearbook: 2022, which bridges the gap between science and policy with national and state-by-state data on the well-being of babies in the United States. The fourth annual Yearbook provides an in-depth look at the experience of our nation’s babies and their families. This year’s report demonstrated how the mental and physical health of our nation’s infants and toddlers has continued to be jeopardized by the COVID-19 pandemic. Findings include:

  • The 40 percent of babies in families with low income before the pandemic were more likely to experience increased insecurity during the pandemic. More than four in 10 of these families saw their income decrease in 2021, compared to about two in 10 of higher-income families.
  • While the use of non-parental child care increased substantially in 2021, from 53.3 percent of surveyed families in January to 66 percent in December, those numbers were lower among families with low income, reflecting continued job losses among those families and decreased affordability and availability of care providers.
  • Public programs meant to support access to early development and care opportunities are not reaching all families who could benefit; only 11 percent of eligible infants and toddlers have access to Early Head Start, and under 5 percent of low- and moderate-income families who could most benefit receive help paying for child care.
  • While children and caregivers’ overall mental health has shown some improvement since the first year of the pandemic, families are still reporting lower levels of emotional support and higher levels of loneliness and emotional distress than before the pandemic began, when one in five mothers were already reporting less than optimal mental health.

Families can learn more about ZERO TO THREE’s Think Babies, as well as how they can get involved to advocate on behalf of their own children and communities, at thinkbabies.org.

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