Early Childhood

New Report Ranks Which States Give Babies the Strongest Start in Life

By Marva Hinton — March 01, 2019 3 min read
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The state a baby is born in makes a big difference in whether that child gets a good start in life, according to a new report.

The State of Babies Yearbook: 2019 was released this week by Zero To Three, a nonprofit that supports early-childhood development, and Child Trends, a nonprofit research center.

The report, which is billed as the first of its kind, ranks all 50 states and the District of Columbia based on how babies born there fare in the categories of good health, strong families, and positive early-learning opportunities.

But just how important is the state where a baby is born?

“It is pretty significant,” said Myra Jones-Taylor, the chief policy officer at Zero To Three, who led the federal policy team behind this report. “There are great, wide ranges between how babies are faring from state-to-state.”

For example, the report finds that only 17 percent of infants and toddlers in Mississippi received a developmental screening in the last year, while nearly 59 percent did so in Oregon.

The report also provides statistics about the nation’s youngest residents:

  • 45 percent of infants and toddlers are classified as poor or near poor

  • 38 percent of infants and toddlers are read to daily

  • 9 percent live in grandparent-headed households

Each state is ranked ranked under the three categories and also receives an overall ranking: G for growing, R for reaching forward, O for improving outcomes and W for working effectively.

States that are classified as either growing or reaching forward are below the national median on selected indicators. The researchers examined nearly 60 indicators under the three categories, including things such as the infant mortality rate, housing instability (infants and toddlers who have moved three times since birth), and states with paid family leave.

The report also includes a snapshot for each state that details where each state stands on these indicators.

“We want this to be a roadmap for states,” said Jones-Taylor. “We want all states, even the states in the top tier, they all have room to grow. We want them to open it up and dig deep into the data.”

Regional Differences

The states classified as the best for babies are all located in the Northeast, with Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont leading the way.

“They’re really been putting together the policies and social fabric that we know make for better outcomes for babies and their families,” said Jones-Taylor.

The states in the South were more likely to rank near the bottom. Arkansas and Nevada were the only two states to rank in the lowest tier for all three categories.

The report also notes the changing demographics in this country. Today 51 percent of babies in the United States are children of color.

Jones-Taylor says that these children and their family may face “historical and structural inequality” and states should enact policies to counteract that.

“These disparities show up early, and they have lasting negative consequences in all three domains that we track,” said Jones-Taylor. “Being a child of color is not a risk factor in and of itself, it’s the systems in place that have shut families of color out of opportunity. That is really what puts families and young children at risk.”

She cites things such as these families’ increased likelihood to work in low-wage jobs and in communities without access to high-quality child care as examples.

Jones-Taylor says she hopes that in addition to state leaders, child welfare advocates and parents will use this report to learn what can be done to improve conditions for infants and toddlers where they live.

She emphasizes that some of these things are quite simple such as parents reading and singing to their babies on a daily basis during this critical stage of life.

“There is no other time in their lives when their brain is growing as quickly and is as sensitive to its environment than the time between zero to three,” she said.

Image by Getty

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.