According to the 2013 survey of state child welfare agencies about the policies and practices that guide their work in addressing the needs of infants and toddlers, the following three broad themes emerged:
- Few states have policies that differentiate services or timelines for infants and toddlers from those for older children.
- Relatively few states have implemented promising approaches to meeting the unique developmental needs of infants and toddlers.
- Given growing awareness about the needs of very young children stemming from neuroscience and child development research, child welfare agencies have a long way to go in aligning policies and practices to ensure that the unique needs of infants and toddlers are met.
The “Changing the Course for Infants and Toddlers” Executive Summary, Full Report and Index of State Initiatives, produced by ZERO TO THREE and Child Trends, is available to view online, to download or to print via the above link. One short companion piece from ZERO TO THREE and Child Trends, called Understanding and Meeting the Needs of Birth Parents, which offers highlights from the survey and recommendations for state action, is also available via the link. A “Coming Soon!” promise is made by ZERO TO THREE and Child Trends for two other companion pieces, titled Ensuring Critical Assessments and Services for All Maltreated Infants and Toddlers and Achieving Permanent Placements for Maltreated Infants and Toddlers.
These documents are yet more proof that too many infants and toddlers lack the start in life that will allow them to be ready for school and life. Their brains won’t develop in the ways necessary to learn, to explore their world, to communicate with others, or to get along with others. They won’t meet their full potential as human beings, let alone as tax paying citizens who can provide for themselves and their families instead of needing social services that cost all of us money. These infants and toddlers, so deprived and damaged, will end up costing our health care, education, social welfare, and prison systems billions of dollars in the long run, just because we, as a nation, weren’t brave enough to find a new way to handle the problem.
I just don’t know how many more infants and toddlers have to be maltreated and deprived of a great start in life before our nation wakes up to change. I, for one, have lost confidence in the economists, medical professionals, law makers, policy makers, educators, and other decision-makers at the helm up to this point. But, surely, there must be others out there besides me, James Heckman, Hart & Risley, and others who know and have known for decades that it will take revolutionary change to give every infant and toddler the start they deserve in life.