From the moment of birth, children begin developing cognitive, social, emotional, language and motor skills at an incredible rate. Throughout the first three years of life, a child’s brain goes through a period of enormous growth, producing more than a million neural connections each second. This early period of development lays the foundation for lifelong health and wellbeing.
A child’s development is influenced by many factors, including their relationships, experiences, environment and genetics. We know that young children do best when they develop strong, supportive relationships with their primary caregivers and experience the world through safe, healthy and playful environments.
Too often, however, these factors are impaired by toxic stress on caregivers and families. Challenges inherent with poverty and structural racism, such as food insecurity, neighborhood crime and lack of safe and stable housing, can interfere with caregiver-child relationships and impede healthy development and learning. These challenges grow when caregivers struggle with depression or when children have special needs, such as autism.
When families experience these hardships, or when a child’s development seems to be off track, services addressing these concerns may be important for ensuring kids are getting the help they need to grow and thrive. From perinatal supports and home visiting, to speech-language therapy and mental health consultation, skilled professionals who are trauma-informed and culturally responsive can have a significant, positive impact on kids and their caregivers. Unfortunately, these services are in short supply, leaving too many kids and families unable to get the help they need.
The Healthi Kids Coalition believes that ALL caregivers and kids should have the trauma-informed, culturally-responsive services and supports they need to foster healthy development and strong relationships. Together with parents and our state and local partners, we fight to expand access to these services by advocating for change that:
- Advance policies and practices that center infant and early childhood mental health to strengthen child-caregiver relationships and promote healing in all early childhood services and supports.
- Build an infant and early childhood mental health-informed workforce that is anti-racist, healing-centered, and relationship-focused, that reflects the diversity of kids and families in the communities they serve.
- Eliminate barriers to accessing high-quality early intervention services and preschool special education for all children.
- Advocate for policies and practices that center the importance of Black and Latino fathers to advance infant and early childhood health, development, and wellbeing.
- Promote access to culturally-responsive prenatal and postpartum support services.