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For Healthy Babies, Toddlers, NC Policies Must Help Families, Communities

The Think Babies North Carolina Initiative aims to boost health and developmental outcomes for the state's babies and toddlers. (Adobe Stock)
The Think Babies North Carolina Initiative aims to boost health and developmental outcomes for the state's babies and toddlers. (Adobe Stock)
July 17, 2019

RALEIGH, N.C. – North Carolina is making strides to support families with young children, according to two new policy assessments by the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation that say there's plenty of room for improvement, especially when it comes to such basic needs as health care and a livable wage.

Many studies have found that children's experiences in the first three years of life are hardwired into their brains and bodies, making this time critical. Donna White is vice-president of the North Carolina Partnership for Children/Smart Start program. One of Smart Start's initiatives pairs new parents with educators who help guide them through the first few months of life with a new baby.

"Say you have a brand-new mom – that can be the most frightening part of being pregnant, right, is when you actually have the baby in your hands? And now, you have to go home," said White. "The home visiting entails a professionally trained parenting educator who visits the family and provides some coaching, and connection with other services the family may need."

White said North Carolina should spearhead a statewide, centralized effort to help connect more young families to home visiting and parenting-education programs. Experts have said the state also could increase its minimum wage and expand access to Medicaid to reduce families' financial and health burdens, both of which have a direct impact on children's physical and emotional health.

Cindy Watkins, president and chief executive of the North Carolina Partnership for Children, said the state also needs to focus on figuring out how to increase compensation for early-childhood educators.

"They're some of the lowest-compensated people that work in any industry," she said. "So, we're working to not only increase their compensation, but the educational requirements that we know are necessary for them to really provide the sort of care that young children need."

She said those requirements include mental-health training. Watkins pointed out that North Carolina could be working to build its pipeline of mental-health specialists who are trained to work with both young children and their parents.

The policy briefs are online here and here.

Disclosure: North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation contributes to our fund for reporting on Children's Issues, Education, Livable Wages/Working Families, Women's Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - NC