A new KIDS COUNT® policy report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation details hurdles that young parents face to support their children. These barriers threaten both the still-developing young adult parents and their young children, setting off a chain of diminished opportunities for two generations. Infants and toddlers are most vulnerable, as their rapidly-growing brains need high-quality learning environments and experiences to thrive. The 50,000 young parents in Washington state need our help to give every baby a strong start.
Today, 3.4 million children in this country live with parents ages 18 to 24. Thirty-seven percent of them, mostly babies, toddlers and preschoolers, live in poverty. Yet in many cases, public systems and programs are not designed with the special needs of young parents in mind.
Opening Doors for Young Parents illuminates the most common obstacles young adult parents face, including incomplete education, lack of employment and career growth, lack of access to quality child care, inadequate and unstable housing and financial insecurity. Facing all of these obstacles make young parents less likely to find jobs offering wages that can sustain their family. Forty-one percent of young parents attributed jobless spells to the challenges with child care.
A child’s earliest years shape the rest of their life. Our brains grow faster between the ages 0 to 3 than any later point in life, forming more than 1 million new neural connections every second. That’s why access to quality, affordable child care is so imperative in securing healthy and successful futures for our little ones. Unfortunately, young adult parents lack the resources, policies and support to secure these opportunities.
Because many communities do not have enough high-quality child care slots for infants and toddlers, and because young parents often work and attend school during irregular hours, they often have to rely on family members, if available, to help with child care. Washington state policymakers can do more to allow younger parents to build strong, economically stable families and early learning environments for their infants and toddlers.
Today, child care for a baby in Washington state costs more than tuition at a public college or university. And, our state's child care assistance program is severely underfunded. That’s one reason why we’ve partnered with ZERO TO THREE on the Think Babies™ campaign to inspire lawmakers to put the early success of our little ones at the forefront of their policy, program and budget decisions.
To do that, in 2019 state policymakers can take two concrete steps to put high quality early learning within reach of more families, so their kids can thrive.
First, policymakers can increase affordability and access by investing in high-quality child care for infants, toddlers and preschool-age children.
Second, policymakers can make greater investments in the state’s Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP), proven to prepare more kids to thrive in K-12. A 2017 analysis by KIDS COUNT in Washington found that expanding ECEAP would help many children of color succeed in kindergarten and beyond.
We can do better for our babies and young parents. There must be a greater investment in affordable access to quality child care for infants, toddlers, and other young children. When we invest in infants, toddlers and their families, we ensure a strong future for us all.