The first three years of a child's life are the most important to their development, according to a new, national report ranking how well states are caring for infants and toddlers. Colorado received high marks.
The State of Babies Yearbook 2019 examines state and national policies and programs that support the healthy development of children. The report compared 60 indicators for child and family well-being across three categories. Colorado was one of 12 states to receive the highest out of four ratings.
The report was co-authored by national advocacy organization ZERO TO THREE and the non-profit research group Child Trends. Myra Jones-Taylor, chief policy officer at ZERO TO THREE, said Colorado's Medicaid expansion has contributed to strong, healthy families which is critical to childhood development.
"You also do something that's very, very important when it comes to maternal and child mental health," Jones-Taylor said. "Your state Medicaid policy allows for maternal depression screening and well-child visits."
Colorado also received top honors in two categories: good health and positive early learning experiences. The latter focused on several indicators, including how infants and toddlers learn through play, active exploration of their environment and interaction with caregivers. One of the most important activities parents can do is read to their young children which helps language development, according to the report.
"We know how critical it Is to read to your baby every night," Jones-Taylor said. "That's where those attachments are formed. That's when children are exposed to rich and diverse language that set them up for academic success later on."
Nationally, only 38.2 percent of infants and toddlers are read to every day. Colorado fares better, with half of parents reading to their kids daily. But while the state is ahead of the curve, there is still room for growth, Jones-Taylor said, adding that this activity can easily be incorporated into a household's daily routine.
"If parents have this report in their hands, they can actually say, 'I had no idea I should be reading to my baby every night,' and they can change that practice today," she said.
Colorado also received the second highest score in the strong families category.
Jones-Taylor said factors including lack of paid family leave and limited funding for childcare subsidies led to the lower ranking. Another issue is housing instability, which is measured by the number of toddlers and infants who have moved three or more times since birth. In Colorado that number is twice the national average.
"That's detrimental because babies are so sensitive to their environments," Jones-Taylor said. "If you have had a baby move multiple times, that is very disruptive to their sense of security, to their ability to adjust."