A CHILD’S BRAIN forms more than a million connections every second, faster in the first three years than in any other period in his life. During this period, his future physical, social, emotional and intellectual development is being determined by his experiences. It is axiomatic that good health, secure and stable families, and supportive relationships with trusted adults create in his new life the foundation for future learning, social and emotional health.
Yet, as Zero to Three, an organization devoted to aiding healthy family and child development, points out, many parents today lack the resources to create the kind of atmosphere babies need to achieve these necessities. Today “it’s an uphill battle for many parents to provide their infants and toddlers with the stability they need,” Zero to Three notes. These parents tend to be younger, earn less, and have less financial security than parents of older children. Added to the normal stresses of parenthood, these factors create family stresses that reduce the stability that a young child needs.
Poor Choices New Parents Face
A key element in the picture is the fact that the United States, lagging behind other advanced nations, is shockingly lacking in family-friendly policies. “Only 14 percent of workers have access to paid family leave after a child is born, adopted, or newly fostered,” according to Zero to Three. This leaves new parents with the choice of either returning to work too early for the child or giving up necessary income for an extended period of time, or even losing a job. With two incomes now essential in most households, it’s a terrible choice to have to make. Thus, “nearly one-third of new mothers return to work within six days of giving birth.” But when they do, they come up against the fact that there is a critical shortage of available quality child care providers in their areas. And where they exist, the cost is “staggering.”
It’s enough to cause terrible stress in any family and turmoil in families that are particularly fragile just when infants and toddlers need the security and stability of healthy relationships with adults.
Child Poverty a Big Factor
Child poverty is also a starkly relevant factor. About 41 percent of all infants and toddlers live in families earning less than $38,156 for a family of three with one child. Infants and toddlers are among those most likely to live in poverty even though a vast majority of their parents are working. And besides the low wages, they lack such basic necessities as health insurance and paid sick leave.
“Now is the time to act,” declares Zero to Three. The nation must take steps to defend, support, and improve existing programs that strengthen families and nurture healthy infant and child development. “This not only creates safer and more productive communities, but it also helps build the nation’s economy by empowering our future work force.” We already have a number of supports for families with young children but these are seriously underfunded, operating under limited budgets and “are not responsive to families’ growing needs.’
A Necessary Program of Action
This website strongly supports national and state legislation that help strengthen families and children, like raising the minimum wage, universal health care, publicly funded high-quality affordable child care available to all who want it, major investments in education, massive rebuilding of our country’s seriously neglected infrastructure that would provide well paying jobs to millions of working families, among other things.
Public opinion strongly supports these measures. They must demand that our governments act now before another generation is lost.