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Examining the Well-Being of America’s Babies: The "State of Babies Yearbook: 2019"

by Kim Keating

Abstract

This article discusses why and how the State of Babies Yearbook: 2019 was developed; identifies the indicators used to examine the well-being of the nation’s infants and toddlers; and explains how the indicators align with the ZERO TO THREE policy framework areas of Good Health, Strong Families, and Positive Early Learning Experiences. The author describes the methodology used to rank and compare states and summarizes the national findings and variations found among states. The article provides recommendations for using the Yearbook data to inform and promote development of national and state policies that ensure all babies have the opportunity for a strong start.

Decades of research from multiple disciplines demonstrate that the first 3 years of a child’s life are a period of incredible growth and opportunity. From birth to 3 years old, infants and toddlers experience the most rapid physical, cognitive, and emotional development of their lives. By the time they are 3, children acquire the abilities to speak, learn, and reason. During this uniquely sensitive time, young children’s interactions and experiences combine with the influences of genes to shape the architecture of their brains in enduring ways that lay the foundation for lifelong health, well-being, and success. Babies’ brains grow at a faster rate during the first 3 years of life than at any later point in their lifetimes—creating more than 1 million neural connections per second (Thompson, 2001). These connections form the foundational brain architecture on which all later learning and development will rest. Whether this foundation will be strong or fragile is dependent on multiple inputs. Relationships and social interactions, as well as nutrition, safety and protection, provision of basic needs, and regular medical care are all important to how a baby’s brain grows.

The extent to which children are nurtured and supported in their earliest years also has significant and long-lasting societal impacts. Although the social and economic returns of investing in policies that support early development are well-documented in the literature (García, Heckman, Leaf, & Prados, 2016), infants and toddlers are seldom at the forefront of national and state policy agendas. This article explores the State of Babies Yearbook: 2019, a resource designed by ZERO TO THREE in partnership with Child Trends to give policymakers and advocates the information and tools to implement strong policies that support parents and caregivers in nurturing the youngest children and placing them firmly on a path to success in school and in life.*

  • Note: Portions of this article have been reproduced from the Yearbook.

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