New report examines how babies, toddlers are faring in the pandemic
The United States is home to 11.4 million babies who make up 3.4 percent of the nation’s population. How are they doing during the ongoing pandemic?
A new report provides a rich set of answers to that question. The young children’s advocacy group ZERO TO THREE this week released its fourth annual State of Babies Yearbook that explores how babies are faring over a very wide range of indicators, and compares states’ policies toward their youngest residents.
Overall, the report found that the mental and physical health of infants and toddlers continues to be jeopardized by the pandemic. It found that many parents and primary caregivers do not have what they need to ensure a strong foundation for their children. Disparities that existed before the pandemic in areas such as health and early learning, economic stability, and access to child care have left many families to fend for themselves.
Most strikingly, the report found that the 40 percent of babies in families with low incomes before the pandemic were more likely to experience more economic insecurity during the pandemic. More than four in ten low-income families with young children saw their income decrease in 2021, compared to roughly two in 10 of higher-income families. The report states that even in a growing economy, structural disparities continue to hurt babies and young children.
These disparities are particularly stark when it comes to access to child care. The report found that the use of non-parental child care increased substantially over 2021, from 53.3 percent in January 2021 to 66 percent in December. But the return to non-parental care as the pandemic eased was lower among families with low incomes, reflecting continued job losses among these families and decreased availability of care providers.
The report also found that children and caregivers’ overall mental health has shown some improvement since the first year of the pandemic, but 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.
“The pandemic has exposed and exacerbated our nation’s longstanding failure to invest in the health and well-being of every baby, particularly those from families of color and those with low incomes,” said Miriam Calderon, Chief Policy Officer at ZERO TO THREE. “The mental and physical well-being of our babies and toddlers are powerful indicators of our nation’s overall health. But the State of Babies Yearbook: 2022 shows that all is not alright for the littlest among us. Families with young children are not receiving the resources they need to provide their infants and toddlers with the basic necessities required to thrive, which can have lifelong repercussions.”
The report provides a snapshot of how babies are faring nationally, in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and, for the first time, Puerto Rico, across more than 60 indicators and policy areas essential for a good start in life. It is a roadmap for policymakers and local leaders who want to learn more about children and families from all walks of life and geographic areas.
The report places states in four tiers in terms of how they address three areas necessary for babies to thrive – good health, strong families, and positive early learning experiences. This year, 12 states and Washington, D.C. were ranked in the highest tier. They primarily are from the Northwest and Northeast: Colorado, Connecticut, D.C., Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.
Conversely, 13 states, primarily from the South and Plains or Mountain West, were ranked in the lowest tier: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas, and Wyoming.
“For race, income, and geography to no longer determine whether a child has the opportunity to reach their full potential, we need every state to do more for their babies and their families,” Calderon said. “And we cannot expect states to do it alone. We need a strong national agenda that addresses disparities and creates equitable opportunities for every young child in every zip code across America.”
The report includes seven recommendations for policymakers:
- “Reinstate and make permanent the expanded Child Tax Credit.
- “Mandate Medicaid coverage for 12 months postpartum.
- “Enact a national paid family and medical leave policy that promotes bonding between parents and babies and enables workers to care for their own and family members’ health needs.
- “Sustain child care and build the world-class system families deserve by enacting a comprehensive child care program that places quality child care within reach of all working families, particularly those with low and moderate incomes.
- “Transform pediatric care by adding child development specialists to pediatric teams.
- “Fully fund Early Head Start so that all eligible infants and toddlers can enroll in the program.
- “Expand early intervention services to meet the developmental needs of infants and toddlers, including developmental screening and follow-up and incorporating more infant and early childhood mental health expertise and services.”
You can download the 157-page report here.