Infants, Toddlers, Families Need High-Quality Early Care and Education

Families need high-quality, affordable early care and education programs that support child development, promote parents’ ability to support their children’s learning, and allow parents to work or go to school. Public investments in early care and education systems ensure that families facing the biggest barriers and greatest need—including families in poverty, low-income working parents, and children with special needs—can get these services.

High-quality early care and education starting in infancy provides children with the strong developmental foundation that creates a base for lifelong learning. Positive early learning programs address the needs of the whole child by providing responsive, skilled caregivers; safe and healthy environments; and connections to comprehensive community supports. Access to these services starting in infancy is linked with children’s school readiness, academic achievement, and wellbeing in adulthood. These programs also have important benefits for parents. In addition to supporting employment, high-quality early care and education programs can also improve positive parenting behaviors and increase parents’ engagement in children’s learning.

As part of the Building Strong Foundations: Advancing Comprehensive Policies for Infants, Toddlers, and Families project, the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) and ZERO TO THREE identified 13 policies core to advancing infant-toddler wellbeing in four essential areas: healthy bodies, healthy minds, and healthy parents; economically stable families; strong parents; and high-quality child care and early education opportunities. The policies are all grounded in a strong evidence base and, when implemented effectively and funded adequately, have the potential for long-term benefits to children and families. Today, ZERO TO THREE and CLASP are releasing three policy rationales making the case for high-quality child care and early education: 

Early Head Start

Vulnerable infants, toddlers, pregnant women, and families should have access to comprehensive early childhood services through Early Head Start (EHS). EHS programs offer a wide array of child and family development services, including center- or home-based early learning experiences, health and developmental screenings, nutritious food, parenting resources and support, and access to health, mental health, and social services.  EHS is the only federal program specifically focused on the early education experiences of low-income babies and toddlers. Read more.

Child Care Assistance

Low-income families with infants and toddlers should get child care assistance to afford safe, stable, high-quality child care that promotes children’s development and parents’ education, training, and work. Reliable and stable child care is essential for infants and toddlers, but it tends to be more costly than care for older children and is in short supply in many communities. The Child Care and Development Block Grant provides low-income families with subsidies to offset the cost of child care, thereby increasing parents’ ability to work and making it more likely they can afford better quality care. Read more.

Early Intervention

Infants and toddlers with developmental delays or disabilities should be identified and receive early intervention services in a timely manner. Early intervention services supported by Part C of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act help children meet their developmental milestones and provide parents and caregivers with extra support in understanding how to best meet their children’s unique needs. Robust research shows that when problems are identified early, timely intervention can mitigate or even eliminate the long-term effects on development. Read more.

Click here for more information about Building Strong Foundations. These papers are part of a series describing the 13 core policies in the Building Strong Foundations project. Stay tuned for more papers in the series.