10 Ways the Field Has Stood Up for Babies in 2020
Thank you for thinking babies in 2020. We look forward to holding fast again in 2021!
This year has been tough for babies and their families. Over the course of almost ten months, many parents have had to wait in line to feed their children, have lost jobs, and are dealing with the mounting stress of possible eviction, all while trying to nurture and prepare our children to thrive. We’ve witnessed systems for supporting the health and well-being of babies struggle in the face of a global pandemic. And these systems are impacting our young children differently. Even before COVID-19 changed our world, families faced challenges that especially put at risk the strong development of babies of color and those in families with low income.
We did not need a crystal ball to predict who would be sent reeling in this pandemic. The State of Babies Yearbook has revealed early warning signs that babies and families are particularly vulnerable to disastrous events that bring economic and other challenges. Despite immense social, economic, mental and physical stress, infant-toddler advocates have been steadfast in their commitment to changing the course for babies and families, particularly those who are overburdened and under resourced. Time and time again, they have continued to show up to urge leaders to Think Babies and prioritize the needs of infants, toddlers, and their families. More than 70 national and state organizations have joined forces as partners in Think Babies, adding their power to our network of more than 50,000 dedicated advocates across the country.
Together, we are consistently standing up for babies and their families. In 2020, our advocates continued to contact their policymakers, collectively ensuring that nearly every Member of Congress heard the need to Think Babies directly from their constituents. We reached up to 53.8 million people through social media and raised our voices to reinforce the importance of infant-toddler issues in these difficult, unpredictable times.
As we look back on a truly challenging year, we should take time to acknowledge some moments where baby policy has held tight and even advanced:
Advocates showed up to support babies and families in the face of COVID-19: In the spring, Congress acted quickly to pass two major funding packages to begin addressing COVID-19. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES), both signed into law by the end of March, provided supported emergency paid family leave and sick days, early care and learning, family economic needs, and community supports for families under stress. But these investments were not nearly enough to truly address the needs of families, particularly as the pandemic has continued. Collectively, Think Babies advocates have sent more than 21,000 messages to Congress, demanding COVID relief.
Recovery efforts centered around child care: This spring, champions for child care in both the House and the Senate introduced the Child Care is Essential Act, which aimed to provide the child care system with the $50 billion it needed to survive. The bill, which passed the House before stalling in the Senate, was championed by Think Babies advocates, who raised their voices in July as part of Strolling Thunder Virtual Voices and a Day of Action, held in partnership with 30 of our partners.
Federal legislation would prioritize babies experiencing abuse or neglect: This year, the bipartisan Strengthening America’s Families Act (SAFA), which would support state efforts to transform child welfare policy and practice, was introduced in Congress. If passed, SAFA would build state and local systems that support a range of comprehensive, trauma-responsive infant, toddler, and family services for families in the child welfare system and work with states and communities to build the preventative services families need to prevent child removal.
ZERO TO THREE illustrated the state of America’s babies: State of Babies Yearbook:2020, from ZERO TO THREE, with data and analysis powered by Child Trends, compared data on the national and state-by-state well-being of infants and toddlers across policy domains that are essential for a good start in life. This year, the Yearbook enabled us to get closer to the babies behind the numbers and zero in on the disparities and inequities among them and their families.
State responses to COVID 19 prioritized babies with the help of CARES funding: Across the nation, states created and implemented policies to protect and support children, families and child care providers as COVID-19 impacted all areas of their residents’ lives. Many states chose to waive parent co-pays for child care services, expand family eligibility for subsidy support, increase the number of days that a child care provider can be paid when a child is absent from the program, and ensure that providers can be paid if they closed due to COVID-19. Some states also modified existing programs, taking steps to support home visiting programs as they worked with families during the public health crisis, supporting efforts for virtual hearings and parent contact, and ensuring families’ basic needs were met.
Campaigns and ballot initiatives prioritized babies: At both the national and state levels, candidates paid unprecedented attention to the issues that impact babies and families. At the national level, candidates included issues that impact babies and families in their platforms. And at the state level, Colorado residents passed Proposition 118, which provides 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave; Multnomah County, Oregon passed a preschool for all package that includes funds for an Infant-Toddler Slot Preservation Fund; and St. Louis, Missouri voters approved a property tax increase to raise $2.3 million per year for birth-to-five programs.
The Infant Toddler Court Program expanded to 23 sites: In October, ZERO TO THREE’s National Resource Center for the Infant-Toddler Court Program, with funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration, equipped 23 sites and five new states across the country to implement new infant-toddler court teams or increase their alignment with the Safe Babies Court Team Approach. These teams help improve outcomes for all child welfare-involved young children and families, with the goal of dramatically reducing the number of babies and toddlers removed from their families and restoring and strengthening family relationships and positive life trajectories for those young children who enter foster care.
Babies’ mental health needs recognized by appropriators: Advocates reinforced with appropriators the importance of the emotional health of infants and young children, and in a very tight budget year, succeeded in advancing two improvements. First, Congress increased by $2 million dollars funding for the Infant-Early Childhood Mental Health Grant Program, for a total of $9 million in the program. Second, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration will now allow a portion of additional funds within the Infant-Early Childhood Mental Health Grant Program to be provided for technical assistance to existing grantees to better integrate infant and early childhood mental health into state systems.
Despite challenges, state advocates held fast: As states across the nation made difficult decisions about how to move forward, the outlook remained grim and without additional federal aid, the hits to state budgets will be severe and long lasting. Despite this harsh reality, some states persevered in their commitment to young children and families in certain sectors. Wins included Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health expansion, increasing and strengthening governance structures, expanding the definition of infant/toddler to include more children, funding increases and Medicaid expansion. ZERO TO THREE commends these states and the all the advocates who continue to work so hard during this time to ensure that babies and families are held at the forefront of reopening and rebuilding.
Think Babies state partners accomplished multitudes: Think Babies state partners in Colorado, Georgia, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Rhode Island met the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic by swiftly pivoting to a virtual advocacy environment and refocusing advocacy priorities to reflect the emerging needs of infants, toddlers, and families in this crisis. Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, there are examples of progress on Think Babies priorities including the reduction of family co-pays for child care subsidies in New Jersey, the creation of a new IECMH coordinator position in GA as well as the extension of Medicaid to 6 months post-partum, and the passage of paid leave and introductions of financial incentives to maintain Quality Rated and Improvement Systems ratings in Colorado.
While COVID-19 has buffeted a fragile, underfunded system, advocates have shown up for babies and families, encouraging policymakers to prioritize families that are overburdened and underresourced. We have a tough, long road ahead, and plenty of work left to do. As we head into the new year, it is crucial to remain activated and continue to push our leaders to Think Babies in 2021. Sign up to join us.
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