Supporting the Earliest Years: Babies and Toddlers (Ages 0-3 years old)
The research is clear that the healthy growth, learning, and overall well-being of our babies and toddlers is directly connected to the well-being of their families and community. Supporting babies and toddlers to thrive means supporting families and communities to thrive. It is critical that the state intentionally centers whole child, whole family policies and resources for our babies’ and toddlers’ healthy development and growth.
Why Invest in Babies and Toddlers
The First Years of Life are Marked by Incredible Growth and Milestones
The first three years of life is a time of incredible capacity for growth and learning, which sets the foundation of their social, language, and cognitive skills. High quality early care and education experiences are critical for babies’ lifelong success. Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman’s research found a 13 percent per year return on investment of high quality ECE programs for low-income children of color.
What Families of Color Need
Supportive Whole Child, Whole Family Approaches
So I really like that [early care and education program] because they feed them nutritious food, and they even make soups, like the ones that you make at home.” - Latinx Parent from the Central Coast
- A whole child approach connects families to the holistic resources their babies need to reach their fullest potential. This includes access to childcare, health and mental health services, education, childhood adversity and community safety, economic well-being, and built environments.
Opportunity: Using a whole child, whole family approach rooted in racial equity prioritizes communities most impacted by historic inequities and furthest from opportunities. This recognizes that a child’s well-being is rooted in the healthy functioning of their family and community. This approach is critical to advancing educational equity as well as racial and economic justice for our youngest Californians. Learn more about the Whole Child Community Equity approach
Policies that Address the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic
“Something that I really liked about Head Start. During the pandemic, there was a program to give psychological help to every parent. That is very important. When we express our emotions, it is the doorway to a healthy environment. It has to be a requirement for a person. A care center should have something like that where they are looking into that for children.” - Farmworker Parent
- The pandemic placed heightened amounts of physical, psychological, emotional, and financial stress on low-income families and babies of color and further exacerbated existing inequities, such as finding affordable child care. Our leaders must intentionally provide resources and support that are critical to ensuring our babies and toddlers are on a path to success.
Opportunity: The state has the opportunity to play a leadership role in intentionally supporting babies and toddlers. As families continue to navigate the impact of COVID-19 that has exacerbated existing systemic inequities, babies and their families need:
- increasing community access to mental health resources and community health workers (e.g., doulas, home visitors, and promotoras),
- intentionally support for children’s social emotional development through play-based learning and socialization opportunities, and
- continuation of flexibility granted to families during the pandemic when they sought access to essential resources (e.g., family fee waiver).
Culturally and Linguistically Affirming Care
“It’s important for the children to speak more than one language [...] Also, their own mother tongue, [...] if they learn English and their mother tongue, that will keep them to stay within their culture and learn more about other cultures and their identities too.”- Somali Parent from San Diego County
- Babies and toddlers who are multilingual learners acquire their knowledge of the world around them through two or more languages. Nurturing their home language helps maintain strong ties with their family and is important for social, behavioral, and emotional regulation. Cultural and linguistic affirmation is foundational to babies’ success in life - to develop a strong sense of self and discover their full potential.
Opportunity: The state has the opportunity to invest in access to early care and education environments that nurture and affirm families’ cultural and linguistic strengths. Culturally and linguistically affirming care and learning for babies and toddlers are key to sustaining strong ties with their family/community and developing a positive sense of self and cultural identity that leads to resilience. The research is clear that the brain is most receptive to language learning in the earliest years of life.
What Early Educators Need
Adequate Resources and Supports
"During the pandemic, (my) goal was to help more families, and if the family needed it (infant care), I wasn't going to say 'no.'" - Home-based child care provider in LA County
- For babies to thrive, the adults surrounding them need to be well. This includes their families and child care providers. Child care providers are the essential workers to our essential workers. During the pandemic, child care providers continued to go above and beyond, they provided babies with loving, nurturing environments with rich, educational opportunities to prepare them to succeed in school and life.
- Investing in the True Cost of Care - The state has the opportunity to address the historic underinvestment in our early care and education system by providing resources that reflect the true cost of care, including fair and just wages to providers. The wellbeing of child care providers, who have historically been Black and brown women, directly impacts the wellbeing of our babies. Fully resourced providers foster quality learning environments that are loving, nurturing, and optimal for a baby’s growth and development.
- Increasing Access for Babies –The state has the opportunity to increase access to early care and education for communities of color who’ve historically experienced underinvestment. Child care is vital to children, families, communities, and the economy. Child care providers that care for our infants and toddlers are essential workers and the backbone of the state’s working families. Yet, 94 percent of babies and toddlers who were income-eligible for publicly-funded programs did not have access to care (2016).