Most families of color in Rhode Island are living in “overcrowded housing” at rates higher than the national average, Patricia Cole, senior director of federal policy at Zero to Three, told The Globe on Monday. Housing for babies and toddlers in Rhode Island, she explained, is one of the biggest problems.
“[Crowded housing] impacts the development of babies,” Cole said. “And that can affect the undivided time that child gets… We need to look at our housing policies and really connect the two.”
Data from the report was made available by Child Trends, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization focused on children, youth and families. The State of Babies Yearbook provides a profile of each state’s performance on key indicators: ‘Good Health’, ‘Strong Families’ and ‘Positive Learning Experiences’. States are ranked according to their level of support for children and families in each of these areas. These levels, from least to most favorable, are: “Start”, “Move forward”, “Improve results” and “Work effectively”. The levels are based on a number of indicators, including birth weight, infant mortality rate, uninsured rates of low-income infants and toddlers, and prenatal care, among others.
Northeastern and Northwestern states reached the highest tier, which included Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, Vermont, Maryland, New Jersey, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Minnesota and the District of Columbia.
Thirteen states, located mostly in the south, in the Great Plains or Mountain West, reached the lowest level, which included Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, the Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas, and Wyoming.
More than 60 indicators and policy areas were examined using census data, the National Child Health Survey, the Rapid Assessment of the Impact of the Pandemic on Development, the Survey of from early childhood households and other sources.
However, no state is truly working effectively for babies and families of color, even if they rank high, Miriam Calderón, policy manager at Zero to Three, said in a call with reporters Monday.
Ranking number one “in no way means that all babies and families in these states are doing well and have what they need,” she said, but the report should serve as a “resource for parents.” states and policy makers”.
Cole said “every state has room to grow,” even if it ranks first, like Rhode Island.
In the United States, data shows that 40% of babies from low-income families before the pandemic were more likely to experience greater economic insecurity during the pandemic. About four in 10 low-income families with young children saw their income decline in 2021, compared to about two in 10 high-income families.
About 38% of high-income families reported an increase in income, compared to only 25% of low-income families.
The report also showed that inequalities were also apparent in access to childcare. Non-parental child care has increased significantly over the course of 2021, from over 53% of families surveyed in January 2021 to 66% in December. Yet the return of non-parental care was lower among low-income families, reflecting continued job losses among low-income individuals and reduced availability of child care. Only about 11% of eligible infants and toddlers have access to Early Head Start, and less than 5% of federally eligible families receive help paying for child care in the United States.
However, the report found that the overall mental health of children and caregivers has improved since the first year of the pandemic. Yet families still report lower levels of emotional support and higher levels of loneliness and emotional distress than before the pandemic began. One in five mothers were already reporting less than optimal mental health before 2020, according to the report.
“The pandemic has exposed and exacerbated our country’s long-standing failure to invest in the health and well-being of every baby, especially those from families of color and those on low incomes,” Calderón said.
She said the mental and physical well-being of babies and toddlers in the United States is “a powerful indicator of the overall well-being of our country.
“[This report] shows that all is not well for the littlest among us,” she said. “Families with young children aren’t getting the resources they need to provide their infants and toddlers with the basic necessities they need to thrive, which can have lifelong repercussions.”