What do infants and toddlers need to thrive? Close, caring relationships, interactive play, a daily dose of reading, and opportunities to explore a safe environment. These elements are well known, but care for children under the age of three often falls short. It suffers from a lack of public investment and support for the critical adult at its center: the caregiver.
A new report, Investing in the Birth-to-Three Workforce: A New Vision to Strengthen the Foundation for All Learning, proposes a focused approach to this challenge. Promoting infant and toddler development means ensuring that their caregivers have what they need to thrive too.
Learn about the four key strategies to support and elevate early childhood caregivers:
1. Deepen expertise
2. Increase compensation
3. Strengthen systems
4. Generate public will
“If we’re serious about building an excellent education system that sets every child up for success, we have to start with babies and toddlers, along with the educators who care for them,” said LaVerne Srinivasan, Vice President, National Program and Program Director, Education, Carnegie Corporation of New York. “The network of adults in young people’s lives from birth on is so critical. As a country, we have to prioritize our focus on all of those individuals.”
"If we’re serious about building an excellent education system that sets every child up for success, we have to start with babies and toddlers, along with the educators who care for them."
— LaVerne Srinivasan, Carnegie Corporation of New York
The report is being published today by the Bank Street College of Education, with Corporation support. At a daylong symposium at corporation headquarters in New York, early childhood experts, education leaders, and caregivers will gather to explore the report’s findings and share solutions.
A large body of research shows just how critical the first 1,000 days of a child’s life are to lifelong learning. During this sensitive period of rapid-fire neurological development, young children build the skills and emotional connections that set the stage for school readiness, emotional maturity, and physical and mental health.
Adult interactions are the primary vehicle for infant and toddler learning, and young children flourish when they experience responsive, developmentally appropriate care. “When we provide babies and toddlers with regular access to a sensitively attuned caregiver and a secure base from which to explore the world around them, we literally feed the growing brain, helping to build the brain architecture that supports everything in life that follows — our learning, our behavior, and even our health,” said Shael Polakow-Suransky, President, Bank Street College of Education.
Yet most infant and toddler caregivers are not trained in early childhood development. They don’t view themselves as educators and lack access to professional development or support. Some 86 percent earn less than $15 an hour, nearly half rely on public assistance, and 29 percent leave their jobs each year.
The opportunity to improve is clear. The report suggests four strategies to support and elevate early childhood caregivers: create ongoing professional development and support, increase compensation, establish early childhood networks and systems, and build public will to financially support infant and toddler care as a public good. Specifically, the report calls for expanding teaching residency programs for early childhood caregivers, using technology and coaching to deliver professional development and training through a blended model, and creating opportunities for coaches to visit home-based and informal care environments to offer support and share expertise.
Many of those prescriptions undergird current efforts supported by the Corporation, such as K–12 reforms to improve student outcomes and leadership support to effect change at the system level, forming a foundation on which all other educational development takes place, said Srinivasan.
“We look at the effort that we put into K–12 education, around all aspects of supporting states and communities to prepare kids for college and career,” she said. “But it all amounts to full-scale remediation for kids who enter the school system underprepared in the first place.”
The Bank Street report also builds on the Corporation’s longstanding legacy in advocating for high-quality early learning experiences for America’s children.
Throughout the 1960s, the Corporation supported research that proved crucial in securing and safeguarding funding for Head Start, the nation’s flagship early education program, which has served more than 30 million three-to-five-year-olds since 1965. Corporation support also helped produce the agenda-setting High/Scope Perry Project, which found far-reaching positive effects of attending a high-quality preschool, including fewer arrests and higher salaries in adulthood.
Then in 1994, in reaction to changing family structures and workforce participation trends, the Corporation warned of a “quiet crisis” facing families of young children in Starting Points, its groundbreaking report on children ages zero to three. That report called for better prenatal care, expanded quality daycare options, increased financial and educational supports for parents, and careful attention to the unique developmental needs of infants and toddlers. It spurred a national conversation about the needs of babies and toddlers, ultimately helping to inspire the federal Early Head Start program to meet the developmental needs of pregnant women and children under the age of three.
In the quarter-century since Starting Points was published, the United States has made some progress. There is broad consensus that the earliest years are a critical time for cognitive development, and that young children whose needs are not met during that period are unlikely to start kindergarten ready to learn. Among political leaders, a growing awareness of the burdensome cost of early childcare for families has brought this issue back into focus. And even at this current moment of political division, policymakers across the spectrum acknowledge the need to do more.
“This is the moment to say, we know what children need. As policymakers contemplate major investments to help families manage the cost of childcare, we must ensure that those investments also provide babies and toddlers with rich, nurturing experiences that create a foundation for lifelong learning,” said Srinivasan. “There is a tremendous opportunity to get this right, but if we miss it, we’ll pay for it over and over again. It’s an opportunity we simply cannot afford to miss.”