Times, they are a changin’

This Friday a new administration will take office.  Let’s talk about how this will affect our youngest and most vulnerable Americans.  Four million babies will be born in the United States during Donald Trump’s first year as president. By the time Trump finishes his first term in office, these four million babies will each have made as many as 100 billion neural connections in their brains, forming over 85% of their total brain development. This early brain development, which is entirely dependent on their experiences, interactions, nutrition, and well-being will lay the foundation for new learning, growth and development for the rest of their lives. The support these babies are provided by their parents, families, care-givers, and communities will determine the strength of their critical foundation in life.

Today, more than one fifth of all babies in the U.S. live below the poverty line and almost half of all babies born this year will live in “low-income” families.* This means that way too many babies are not being given the best start possible. Because of lack or resources, these children are falling behind before they reach their first birthday, often times, even ending up with significant developmental delays.

The science behind early development is clear and well-researched.  Early brain cells, or neurons develop at lightning speed, presenting both a prime opportunity for enrichment as well as a serious window of vulnerability for falling behind.  Babies brains create 700 new neural connections every second if the baby is nurtured and adequately stimulated. As children get older,  higher-level learning is built upon these early connections. If the foundation is not there, future development is severely impeded.

What do we as a country need to do to set babies up for success? We need to provide all babies with the opportunity to thrive.  Parents need support in the form of a national paid family leave program. Both mom and dad need to have the opportunity to spend time with their baby and nurture their early skills, not work two full-time jobs to put food on the table. This new administration needs to hear this loud and clear.  We cannot move backwards. We as nation need to continue to move forward.

We need to make sure all families have access to quality affordable childcare and healthcare. Ensuring quality care for our nation’s future leaders by well-trained and well-compensated providers is paramount to the success of not only our babies, but our country as a whole.  Too many parents work two jobs and still live below the poverty line, causing toxic stress in the household that carries over to the children.  The minimum wage needs to be raised to a living wage that allows families to work less and spend more time together. Overnight daycares need to become less in number, not greater in number.  Babies and young children need to sleep in their own beds.

Early Head Start is an amazing organization, but it needs to be extended.  We need to extend Early Head Start so the needs of all eligible infants can be met. Early Head Start has an incredible vision that provides comprehensive services to both parents and babies in a two-generation approach, but it is severely limited, reaching only 5 percent of eligible parents and babies. We need a major commitment of funds to Early Head Start so that more families can be reached.

Up to 14% of children under the age of 5 experience social and emotional limitations.* We need to prioritize funding for infant mental health programs, education, treatment, and initiatives to help families with education, awareness, and comprehensive treatment.

We need to arm parents with information about child development so they can foster important skills in their children and know immediately if a developmental delay is present so early intervention can be sought.

Economists estimate that when we invest in quality early development for our babies, the rate of return is up to 10% per year.* These numbers speak for themselves. Investment in the future of our country must start with our 4 million potential leaders, thinkers, athletes, scientists, and innovators. An investment in them is an investment in our country’s future. After all, they will be the ones to take on America’s future challenges. Let’s work together to give them the best start possible.  It’s the least we can do.

*statistics are from Zero to Three. For more information, please visit www.zerotothree.org or www.thewordgapapp.com or www.aimeesbabies.com to learn how to give babies the best start possible.

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