Op Ed By: Dwight Morris
We’ve seen first-hand how devastating it can be when babies lack the support they need to become healthy, happy adults. North Carolina and Johnston County can do better for our babies and toddlers.
And how are Johnston County’s babies faring? The Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count Data Center, shows that even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the littlest among us faced big challenges. Most alarming, significant disparities across key indicators of well-being emphasize the big barriers babies of color face. And the pandemic will have lasting effects on our children, their families, and our nation as we recover and rebuild.
The State of Babies Yearbook: 2020, a national and state resource from ZERO TO THREE, with data and indicator analysis powered by Child Trends, provides a snapshot of how babies are faring across nearly 60 data points in areas essential for a good start in life: Good Health, Strong Families, and Positive Early Learning Experiences. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, North Carolina ranked as one of the best states for babies. According to Kids Count Data, 17% percent of babies in Johnston County were living in poverty before the COVID-19 crisis and we know that families are now struggling more than ever as they face the economic impact of the pandemic. Exploring the numbers by race and ethnicity presents us a clearer picture, revealing that as many as 8% percent of Black babies and 5% percent of Hispanic babies in our state were already living in poverty compared to .6% percent of White babies. Because of historical and structural inequalities, children of color face some of the biggest obstacles that include birthweight, unstable housing, and limited access to quality child care.
A baby’s brain develops faster between ages 0 to 3 than at any later point in life, forming more than one million new neural connections every second. When babies have the support they need, those connections are stimulated and strengthened, laying a strong foundation for the rest of their lives. When infants and toddlers don’t have the support they need (to grow and thrive), their development suffers, leading to lifelong developmental, educational, social and health consequences. Every baby deserves to reach his or her full potential. Where you’re born, the color of your skin, or your family’s income should not make a difference in your chances for a strong start in life.
It has never been more urgent to Think Babies and make the potential of every baby a national priority. In order to meet babies’ critical needs during the COVID-19 pandemic and build stronger systems for the future there are five important things we must do:
a: commit ourselves to sustaining child care and other early learning supports
b: work to improve and ensure economic security
c: help build and support strong families
d: support strong social-emotional health
e: meet the basic needs for health and well-being
Please share this information with your partners and networks and join the team that is fighting for our future. Learn more about Think Babies and how you can get involved.
Dwight Morris is the Executive Director of the Partnership for Children of Johnston County