New data released today shows that Missouri ranked as a near top state for babies; however, it still has room to grow. The State of Babies Yearbook: 2021, released today by national early childhood development nonprofit ZERO TO THREE, comes at a critical time in our nation’s response to the ongoing public health crisis and resulting economic fallout. The research compiles 60 indicators that affect the well-being of children ages zero to three and provides an in-depth look at national and state-by-state progress across three policy areas: Good Health, Strong Families, and Positive Early Learning Experiences.
Though the pandemic itself was unexpected, our longstanding failure to support families with young children – particularly Black and Brown families and those with low income – ensured that those who were already facing barriers due to longstanding disparities and a lack of equity had been disproportionately harmed by the pandemic.
Missouri was among thirteen states across the United States and the District of Columbia to earn an Improving Outcomes ranking, with room for improvement. The State of Babies Yearbook: 2021 shows that the littlest Missourians face significant challenges and that the policies and programs in Missouri can make a difference in their ability to reach their full potential. The Yearbook highlights areas where Missouri can do better for its babies.
“It has never been more important to tell the story of Missouri’s babies. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the littlest among us did not have what they needed to thrive,” said Myra Jones-Taylor, Chief Policy Officer of ZERO TO THREE. “We did not need a crystal ball to know that the pandemic would have lasting effects on children, their families, the state of Missouri, and our nation. As advocates for babies, we must push for those permanent policies that we know will address the barriers our children face.”
Missouri scores in the Working Effectively (W) tier for Positive Early Learning Experiences.
The state’s ranking in this domain reflects indicators on which it performs better than the national average, such as the higher percentages of income-eligible babies who have access to Early Head Start and parents who read to their baby every day. Missouri is doing worse than the national average on indicators such as the lower percentage of babies who receive developmental screenings and babies who receive IDEA Part C services. Indicators of child care quality also contribute to the ranking.
Missouri meets or has adopted 2 of 5 standards that contribute to high-quality child care options, such as group size requirements, adult-child ratio, teacher qualifications, an infant/toddler professional credential, and state reimbursement for center-based child care.
“Aligned worked to remove the ban on quality rating systems for early care and education and championed policies to establish a quality framework at the state level to provide families with data and information to help them make informed decisions when choosing care and education options for their children,” said Torree Pederson, president of Aligned. “We also fought to put funding on our state’s K-12 formula for pre-Kindergarten. We understand this was a good first step, but we know that Missouri’s investment in early education falls short of meeting the needs of all children.”
“There are concrete steps Missouri leaders can take now to improve the quality of child care for infants and toddlers in our state. We urge lawmakers to increase the percentage of state aid that school districts and charter can utilize for early childhood education programs. Investment in our earliest learners will yield the greatest dividends and is the best tool we have to ensure that children can work towards the futures of their choice,” added Pederson.
Decisions that affect babies and families happen at all levels of government. Aligned has joined ZERO TO THREE and nearly 70 other national and state organizations to amplify the Think Babies message nationally and elevate the importance of the first three years in Missouri. On May 18, they will join families and babies from all 50 states and DC to urge Congress to boldly invest in our future as part of the national Strolling ThunderTM event.
To access the national profile and state data, visit stateofbabies.org.