Early Childhood and Our Future: Advocating for Infants and Babies
“The science is clear: when parents are stressed, babies pay the price. That is why improving conditions for families with young children is one of the best investments any nation can make.”
– The Raising of America | Documentary Series
Infants are born with millions of disconnected brain cells and most cells connect in the first five years of life. Starting at birth, a baby’s brain develops rapidly and produces more than one million neural connections each second. While learning occurs throughout all stages of life, more neural connections are developed in the brain in the first 5 years of life than at any other time.
These connections don’t just happen. The full attention of parents, teachers, and caretakers is required so that an infant can become a strong child who can cope with kindergarten and beyond. Babies are influenced by loving relationships, positive experiences, and a calm environment that includes love, music, rocking and listening to conversation—but a violent or hostile environment can result in permanent trauma to a child’s brain.
A baby learns while he or she is awake. Learning experiences can happen at home, either with parents, grandparents or a caretaker. They can also happen at Early Head Start, at a licensed childcare center or at the home of a friend who is caring for neighboring babies.
Infants watch the behavior of adults around them. They observe adult behavior far more than we recognize and may even try to join in. By observing their environment, infants learn about joy and relaxation, but they also learn about anger, frustration, fear and more.
The brains of Pre-K children are more flexible and adaptable, and when learning is delayed to later years, much more effort and skill is required from both teacher and student. Education can then become more costly and time consuming.
Growing infants and preschoolers need regular and focused attention from an adult. They also need activities that are appropriate to their age. They need help in learning to focus and control their emotions, which can be provided to all of our children by an alert parent or a trained caregiver in a licensed and inspected caregiving situation. When we place our children in unlicensed childcare situations that are not inspected, we may put our youngest citizens at risk of neglect and abuse. However most licensed childcare with trained caretakers is scarce and costly, with fees varying from state to state.
The Majority of Caregivers Need Government Subsidies to Offset Costs
According to a recent Care.com survey, approximately 70% of families are paying childcare rates that are unaffordable as defined by the U.S. government. Recognizing this problem, why do we continue to cut funds for programs that improve the cognitive development of infants and toddlers when this investment would improve opportunities? As Frederick Douglas once said: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
As a society, we have understood the importance of early childhood brain development for many years, but we deny adequate funding for programs that teach parents and caretakers how to encourage brain development within infants and toddlers. Many of our neighbors are bringing infants into the world without the necessary parenting skills, nor the money needed to afford trained caretakers who can encourage infant and toddler learning. Our society does not take the time to understand that 90% of brain development occurs before age 5, any many people ignore the plight of today’s families who must find multiple jobs just to pay for childcare, food, healthcare and housing.
Promise the Children advocates for affordable healthcare, childcare, and early education for all. Let’s help struggling parents to provide a bright future for their children and for our country. Please inform your elected officials that you support federal programs for children and keep in touch with them by phone or email. Together we can help all of our children develop into the healthy, strong children they are meant to be.
Programs that Make Childcare More Affordable
Early Childhood Home Visiting for a newborn and mother, by an experienced volunteer or a professional, is funded federally for eligible Moms on Medicaid. Some states fund Home Visiting more broadly.
Federal Refundable Tax Credits: The Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit allows guardians to claim certain subsidies.
State Legislation: Some states have passed legislation requiring public schools to offer or provide space for childcare, while other states designate tax funds or charitable fundraisers to help pay for childcare. Various programs in Minnesota, Wisconsin and New Jersey are working with local school systems to allow for childcare in existing school spaces.
The Child Care Resource Center (CCRC): CCRC offers subsidy programs and financial assistance for families to pay for childcare and early head start. This organization may even help you find childcare resources locally.
Childcare and Development Block Grant (CCDBG): While childcare received a huge boost in the 2018 federal budget, approximately 83% of eligible children are still not being served. Here is the powerpoint by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) on childcare development.