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Federal Expenditures on Infants and Toddlers in 2007

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Document date: April 01, 2009
Released online: May 05, 2009

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This report examines more than 100 programs through which the federal government spends money on children and calculates the amount spent on children under three. These first time expenditure estimates provide a place to start in gauging the priority the nation places on investing in very young children and in comparing expenditure patterns to researchers’ findings about investments that work. For example, despite extensive child development research underscoring the importance of quality early care and education programs for infants and toddlers, especially those in poverty, just 7 percent of federal funding for children between birth and age 2 went toward these efforts in 2007.


Research suggests that investing in young children can help build a strong future workforce, improve children’s educational success and health, and potentially reduce some of the social ills that drain the nation’s resources and will. To have an informed conversation about future investments, it is important to start from an understanding of the baseline: What investments does this nation currently make in young children? Which programs and purposes are currently supported by federal investments, and which are not?

The purpose of this report is to provide such a baseline understanding and inform a national conversation about how best to invest the country’s resources, by examining federal expenditures on infants and toddlers, defined as children under age 3. We look at more than 100 programs through which the federal government spends money on children and calculate the amount spent on this population. Because this is the first year of this research, we cannot assess trends over time, and we cannot estimate state resources, only federal. Moreover, we cannot say from these results anything about the success, efficiency, or merit of a particular type of spending. Nor does the level of spending on very young children demonstrate how much help is needed. However, these baseline estimates provide a place to start in gauging the priority the nation places on investing in very young children and in comparing the expenditure patterns to researchers’ findings about investments that work. Experts make six compelling points about the value of investing in young children:

  • A child’s earliest years are pivotal to development. During the first years of life, a child’s brain grows substantially in size and in architecture. An estimated 700 new neural connections are created every second (Center on the Developing Child 2008). These new connections help form more complex brain circuits that are paramount in the development of vision, hearing, and language skills, along with higher cognitive functioning. Additionally, interactions with caregivers are critical. Attachments very young children form with caregivers early in life largely shape their later relationships (Ainsworth 1985; Bowlby 1969; National Scientific Council on the Developing Child 2004).
  • Poverty and toxic stress can adversely affect infant and toddler development. Extreme poverty can weaken a child’s brain architecture by inhibiting the development of neural connections (Center on the Developing Child 2008). Hart and Risley (2003) estimate that by the age of 3 the language experiences between children of higher and lower socioeconomic status differ by 30 million words, setting the stage for persistent achievement gaps. Toxic stressors (e.g., recurrent child abuse or neglect, severe maternal depression, parental substance abuse, or family violence) can lead to persistent elevations of stress hormones and altered levels of key brain chemicals. These physiological changes weaken the architecture and chemistry of the developing brain (Center on the Developing Child 2007).
  • Significant numbers of infants and toddlers are vulnerable to poverty and toxic stress. In 2007, 5.4 million, or 43 percent, of the nation’s infants and toddlers lived in lowincome families (families with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level), a percentage higher than most groups of older children (Douglas-Hall and Chau 2008). Beyond poverty, other forms of toxic stress can afflict the early development of thousands of infants and toddlers. For example, nearly one-third of the over 900,000 victims of child maltreatment in 2006 were age 3 or younger (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [HHS] 2008b). Additionally, as many as 40 to 60 percent of low-income mothers of young children and pregnant and parenting teens report depressive symptoms (Knitzer, Theberge, and Johnson 2008).

(End of excerpt. The entire report is available in PDF format.)

Federal Expenditures on Infants and Toddlers in 2007 Key Facts

Topics/Tags: | Children and Youth | Economy/Taxes

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