In the earliest years, learning and development is intertwined with health, nutrition, and family income and stability. Essential data sources and reports offer a comprehensive picture of the extent to which babies and toddlers have access to what they need for a healthy start in life.
Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child breaks down the research on early development into accessible language, bridging the gap between science and general audiences.
Zero to Three, a national research and advocacy group, produces an annual State of Babies Yearbook, which features demographics on children from birth to age 3 as well as national and state-level data in three overarching areas — health, strong families, and positive early learning experiences.
The Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center’s detailed “roadmap” focuses on the policies and strategies that have been found to contribute to positive outcomes for babies and toddlers. The center’s clearinghouse points to the evidence related to those policies.
The 2016 “Parenting Matters” report, from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, pulled together data on the demographic and societal shifts affecting young children in the U.S. Among the shifts are an increase in young children under 5 having at least one immigrant parent and growing diversity in family structure.
Early Brain Development
Brain growth is rapid in the early years, with motor skills, memory and language development forming all within the first year, as the Urban Child Institute explains. Connections in the brain that are foundational for learning, vocabulary and more complex tasks continue through age 2 and 3. That’s why relationships and environments are so important.
Mind in the Making – a Bezos Family Foundation program based on brain research – provides a helpful explanation of how the parents and caregivers of young children can support seven “essential” skills, known as executive functioning. These include self control and communication.
“From Neurons to Neighborhoods,” from the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine is an important report published in 2000 that detailed the science of early brain development and drew attention to young children’s mental health.
Infant and Toddler Workforce
The Early Childhood Workforce Index provides data on those working in positions across the early-childhood sector.
The Bipartisan Policy Center offers a summary of key characteristics of child care providers.
A 2020 Child Trends literature review showed a shortage of licensed or regulated providers for infants and toddlers — nationally, as well as across states and communities. The studies pointed to what are known as child care “deserts” where there is a significant lack of supply.
The Center for American Progress provides a tool for identifying communities with limited access to child care.
The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provides a list of state child care agencies — a starting point for understanding who is monitoring quality and how often.
Quality rating and improvement systems — or QRIS — are state-level policies to encourage child care programs to meet standards of quality. These systems are also a way to help parents become more informed consumers of child care. ACF provides a resource guide and state profiles.
Funding and Costs
Aside from parent fees, the Child Care and Development Block Grant is the primary source of public funding for child care for low-income working families. A 2019 HHS study examined how much states pay providers to care for children in those families. Many states also subsidize child care.
The State of Child Care website provides a map with state-level data on child care costs.
A 2018 study showed that less than 40% of infants and toddlers were receiving development screenings from a healthcare professional, but there was wide variability by state.