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UT News

New Policy Guide to Help State Leaders Strengthen Health of Infants and Toddlers

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AUSTIN, Texas – A first-of-its-kind state policy road map for children prenatal-to-3 will soon help guide state leaders as they develop and implement the most effective policies to strengthen their state’s early childhood system of care.

The inaugural road map provides baseline information on the current status of each state’s prenatal-to-3 system and will be updated annually to monitor each state’s progress toward adopting and fully implementing the solutions.

The policy recommendations and analysis will be released at a policy summit today by the Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center at The University of Texas at Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs.

“While the science is clear on the conditions necessary to help children thrive during their earliest years, state leaders previously lacked clear guidance on which policies were most effective to create those conditions,” said Cynthia Osborne, director of the Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center and associate dean of the LBJ School. “It’s more important now than ever, as more families are in crisis, that states have an evidence-driven tool to develop policy solutions that strengthen outcomes and equity for their youngest children.”

The road map also shows where states stand on key areas that affect the most sensitive period for young children’s developing brains and bodies. It outlines five policies and six strategies that are most effective in fostering the nurturing environments infants and toddlers need and reducing long-standing disparities in outcomes among racial and ethnic groups and socioeconomic status.

The report shows that although some states are making progress with the adoption of the 11 combined identified solutions, no single state has adopted them all.

The five effective policies identified in the road map are expanded income eligibility for health insurance, reduced administrative burden for SNAP, paid family leave, state minimum wage and state earned income tax credit.

The six effective strategies identified are comprehensive screening and referral programs, child care subsidies, group prenatal care, evidence-based home visiting, Early Head Start and Early Intervention services.

The results also show that access to services varies substantially across racial and ethnic groups, exacerbating inequities in overall well-being between children of color and their white peers. These racial and ethnic disparities are the result of policy choices and long-standing racism. Eliminating the disparities should be a goal shared by every state, the report said.

“In America, no child’s opportunities should be constrained because of their background, race or where they live. But as we face the triple threat of a global pandemic, the economic fallout from the health crisis, and a national reckoning on hundreds of years of racial injustice, it’s painfully clear that our babies—particularly babies of color and babies from low-income backgrounds—are falling through the cracks of a patchwork early care and education system,” said John B. King Jr., a former U.S. secretary of education and president and CEO of The Education Trust. “This report is groundbreaking in that it provides policymakers with a clear, research-driven road map of policies that states can, and should, consider to begin the hard work of eliminating inequities and building a stronger early childhood system for our babies and their families.”

Only California, the District of Columbia and New Jersey are fully implementing all five effective policies, and no state is making substantial progress toward implementing all six effective strategies.

Seven states have not fully implemented any of the road map policies—Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Wyoming—and 15 states have not made substantial progress toward implementing any of the road map strategies.

Three states—Florida, Mississippi and Wyoming—have not fully implemented any of the 11 road map policies or strategies that strengthen the prenatal-to-3 system of care.

Moving forward, the Policy Impact Center will work directly with states to track their progress. And as more rigorous evaluations are conducted on the innovative approaches that states are taking, the evidence base will expand and will allow researchers to identify additional policies and strategies that have the greatest impact for the youngest children.

“The road map provides a lens through which we can begin to look at selected factors that may impact a child’s health and well-being in the early years of life,” said Angela Evans, dean of the LBJ School. “Dr. Osborne and her team are facilitating a national effort to identify a variety of approaches that may mitigate some of the factors affecting a child’s future well-being.”

To read the full PN-3 state policy road map and a detailed look at all 50 states, please visit http://pn3policy.org/roadmap