Building Strong Foundations for Infants, Toddlers, and Families

By Rebecca Ulrich

Infancy and toddlerhood are periods of incredible growth. In the first three years of life, children are developing the foundational cognitive, physical, and social-emotional skills necessary to function in society. Healthy development in the early years necessitates stability and nurturing caregivers who can support infants and toddlers as they learn and grow.

Public policies can address the comprehensive and interrelated needs of infants, toddlers, and families, ensuring access to mental and physical health care services; healthy food to eat; stable housing; good jobs with adequate benefits; and quality early care and learning programs. Yet, today, they too often fall short.

In a new collaborative project with generous funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, CLASP and ZERO TO THREE are promoting federal and state policy actions that comprehensively address the wellbeing of infants and toddlers and their families. Building Strong Foundations: Advancing Comprehensive Policies for Infants, Toddlers, and Families is guided by a framework that outlines the needs of infants and toddlers, recognizing that all children benefit from healthy bodies, healthy minds, and healthy parents; economically stable families; strong parents; and high-quality child care and early education opportunities.

In From the Ground Up: Establishing Strong Core Policies for Infants, Toddlers, and Families, CLASP and ZERO TO THREE describe the rationale for investing in programs that support children’s development in the earliest years of life. Research consistently demonstrates that children’s environments and experiences during early childhood are significantly predictive of their overall success in adolescence and adulthood. Good health, secure and stable families, and positive early learning environments in the first three years of life provide a strong foundation today and foster positive development for years to come. Yet many infants, toddlers, and families in the United States lack the resources needed to thrive, putting them at greater risk of material hardship and chronic stress. More than half of all children under the age of 3 live in low-income households, and children of color and those in immigrant families—important and growing segments of the young child population—are disproportionately represented among those families struggling to make ends meet.

In this first phase of Building Strong Foundations, CLASP and ZERO TO THREE identified 13 policies core to advancing infant-toddler wellbeing. These policies have a strong evidence base and, when implemented effectively and funded adequately, have the potential for long-term benefits to children and families. Groundwork for these policies has already been laid at the local, state, or federal level, but most programs are largely underfunded and many are unresponsive to families’ complex needs or designed without consideration for how they might further disadvantage already marginalized communities. What’s more, the unique needs of infants, toddlers, and families often go unrecognized, which limits their effectiveness for our nation’s youngest and most vulnerable children.

CLASP and ZERO TO THREE will be publishing a series of policy rationales that make the case for these essential core policies and identify action steps for federal and state policymakers to build and improve upon them.

Read the Policy Framework.

Read From the Ground Up: Establishing Strong Core Policies for Infants, Toddlers, and Families.

Read the 13 core policies.