Too many young children show up to kindergarten without the skills they need to continue learning. While Colorado has made tremendous investments in early childhood through programs like the Colorado Preschool Program, which helps prepare young children for success in school, the science is clear — we need to start even earlier.
In fact, decades of research indicate that the earliest years of life — from infancy through age 3 — are a period of exponential brain development, shaped by the relationships and environment in which a child is growing.
Early experiences in the lives of infants and toddlers shape their brain architecture, laying the foundation for later learning. Without positive experiences that create strong foundations, learning gaps appear early, sometimes detectable before a child’s first birthday. While parents and caregivers have the most critical role during this opportune time, we believe that we all have a part to play in helping our families prepare Colorado’s kids for the future.
The State of Babies Yearbook: 2019, developed by ZERO TO THREE and Child Trends, shows us that the state babies live in makes a big difference in their chances for future success. The numbers show that Colorado is on the right track in providing the supports that our youngest constituents need to thrive, but it’s clear that we still have a lot of room to improve. That is why Clayton Early Learning has partnered with the Colorado Children’s Campaign and ZERO TO THREE’s Think BabiesTM campaign to help policymakers understand how we can better support all pregnant people, infants, toddlers and their families so that all Colorado families thrive.
Colorado ranks highly compared with other states, because it is above average in many indicators. But being better than average is not enough. Almost one in three Colorado babies lives in a family without enough income to make ends meet.
When families have limited economic and social resources, they cannot provide their babies with the nurturing experiences needed for their healthy development.
One in eight Colorado babies already has two or more adverse experiences. Surrounded by an environment of stress and uncertainty, children can experience health and developmental challenges and delays. But positive relationships and supportive communities can help buffer kids exposed to toxic stress from negative social, emotional, and cognitive effects, helping them grow up to become productive citizens. That is why we need today’s leaders to think about babies when shaping policies.
So many states, including our own, lack the policies and investments needed to support our youngest members of society. That needs to change, starting here and starting now.
No matter where they live in our state — the plains, mountains, rural areas or urban centers — children need high-quality support for development. However, in many communities, parents and caregivers struggle to find affordable, quality child care that would allow parents to work or go to school while providing children with early learning experiences to nurture their development. Approximately 96 percent of Colorado’s low- and moderate-income infants and toddlers do not receive direct child care assistance, while the average cost of care would eat up more than half of a single parent’s paycheck.
To bridge the gaps to ensure that every Colorado infant and toddler has what they need to thrive, and to serve as a model for other states facing similar challenges, we need solutions that focus on infants and toddlers, like investments in child care for working families and more preventive medical care for moms and babies.
We must make babies a priority through policies built on the science of brain development and budgets that put babies and families first. Babies are born with unlimited potential — helping them thrive from birth to age 3 sets a strong foundation for the rest of their lives. Children who are healthy — socially, emotionally and physically — are more likely to become healthy, stable and successful adults. Investing in the well-being of the next generation by ensuring that all babies have good health, strong families and positive early learning experiences, benefits us all.
Charlotte M. Brantley is President & CEO of Clayton Early Learning, a non-profit organization that provides national leadership to advance the field of early childhood education. Myra Jones-Taylor is Chief Policy Officer of ZERO TO THREE, a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all babies and toddlers have a strong start in life.