The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
August 9, 2018

How better data can help state and local leaders meet the needs of infants and toddlers

August 9, 2018

Children’s early years are crucial, as rapid brain development takes place from birth to age 2. Mental connections made even before birth through kids’ first few years provide the foundation upon which later cognitive development is built, and enriching and toxic environments and experiences can have long-term consequences for children, their families, and society at large.

Policymakers and educators must ensure that young children get what they need for a strong start and target services to kids who might need extra supports. Low-income children, children of color, children of parents with lower education, and children of immigrants are more likely to face challenges that undermine their development and to face barriers in accessing services and benefits that can help them succeed.

Programs such as home visiting; Early Head Start; the Child Care and Development Fund; the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children; and Preschool Development Grants (PDG) [link changed August 13, 2018] aim to ensure that young children can reach their full potential by providing care, enrichment, education, nutrition, and other resources they and their parents need during this crucial developmental period.

But states and communities need better data to understand the characteristics and needs of infants and toddlers and their families to tailor these programs so they target and reach the children who need them. Knowing more about the babies and toddlers in each community—such as how many there are and key characteristics about their parents and family situation—can help local leaders develop, improve, and apply for programs and resources that benefit the infants and toddlers living there.

For example, in New York, knowing that 28 percent of infants and toddlers have parents working full time might lead policymakers to examine the need to expand child care capacity and options such as the types of providers and hours of care available. And knowing that 29 percent of the state’s young, low-income children have parents primarily speaking Spanish at home might signal a need to provide resources and conduct outreach in Spanish to ensure all young children can benefit.

Similarly, 46 percent of infants and toddlers living in Florida’s Miami metropolitan area have parents that primarily speak Spanish at home, 11 percent have parents that primarily speak French at home, and only one-third have parents that primarily speak English at home, meaning there is a need for information, outreach, documentation, and forms available in multiple languages.

Our new Infants and Toddlers data tool provides this type of information on children from birth to age 2 for all states, DC, and many metropolitan and micropolitan areas. It shows the number and characteristics of infants and toddlers by family income, parental education, and whether their parents were born in the US. The tool also provides information on children (race or ethnicity and citizenship), their families and households (income, number of parents present, and housing cost burden), and their parents (education, employment, nativity, and primary language spoken).

Policymakers, educators, and advocates in states and communities can use these data to inform their needs assessments of children that could benefit from programs and services—such as the upcoming round of PDG [link added August 13, 2018]—and to gain a better sense of whether there are groups of children at risk of being overlooked and left behind by these programs.

Photo by Halfpoint/Shutterstock.

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