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From Baby to Big Kid

An e-newsletter that showcases how children learn and grow each month from birth to 3 years. From Baby to Big Kid translates the science of early childhood and offers strategies parents can tailor to their unique family situation and to the needs of their child.
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A Step Forward on Home Visiting

For a few short months early this year, home visiting was the focus of an advocacy sprint as state stakeholders joined forces with Washington advocates to push successfully for a short-term extension of the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program beyond its September 30, 2014 expiration date. On March 31, MIECHV crossed the finish line as Congress gave final approval to a bill to extend a fix for Medicare payments for doctors—the only must-do bill on the horizon before this fall’s elections. Along for a ride that seemed improbable only a few weeks before was an extension of MIECHV’s authorization to March 31, 2015. Most important, the legislation provided a full year of funding at current levels, $400 million. This provision increases the funds in the MIECHV pipeline, staving off the specter of an abrupt end to the program. Under MIECHV, once funds are awarded to an eligible entity in one fiscal year, they can be spent for up to two fiscal years later.

We hope everyone who participated in this fast-paced effort pauses to reflect on our accomplishment—buying time and additional funding for a program that is an important feature in state systems to reach vulnerable young children and families. But after that, we need to lace up our sneakers again for a longer run toward a full reauthorization, ideally by the end of this calendar year. Including MIECHV on the “Doc Fix” bill was a huge step forward, but states cannot effectively operate a major social program in six-month increments.

As with all races, this one depends on preparation. Our recent efforts created more awareness of and support for MIECHV and home visiting in general. State advocates and stakeholders in particular need to build on that support by working to inform their Congressional delegations to an even greater extent about the importance of this program in increasing parents’ capacity to nurture their children’s earliest development. Keep in mind that many policymakers and potential community supporters may not understand what home visiting is. Taking them along to see firsthand how families are helped is a good way to inform them. Check back for guideposts on the next stages for reauthorizing MIECHV. Our voices CAN help make the difference.

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Twenty-one Years Later: The Movement for Paid Family Leave

Today marks the 21st anniversary of the signing of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) into law. This landmark legislation helps workers balance the demands of job and family. FMLA guarantees eligible workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year to care for a newborn or newly adopted child, care for a seriously ill family member, or recover from their own serious health conditions. Read our post on last year’s 20th anniversary for a firsthand story on the FMLA movement.

While FMLA’s important protections have improved conditions for many families, far too many Americans still lack access to any type of family leave. In particular, workers who are low income or in poverty are less likely to have access to unpaid leave.  For many of those workers, even if they do have FMLA benefits, they often cannot afford to take the unpaid time away from work. For new babies being welcomed into a family through birth or adoption, this means far less time with the most important grown-ups in their lives.

Genine, a trainer of infant caregivers in Upstate New York, experienced this firsthand when her son was born. Her employer did not provide maternity leave to its employees, and Genine was able to take just four weeks of short term disability to care for her newborn son. Realizing that she could not afford to take unpaid leave, Genine returned to work when her son was just five weeks old. As an educator working directly with infants, Genine knows how important the early weeks and months of a child’s life are for bonding with his or her parents. She struggled with the necessary decision to leave her young son each day. For a few months she was able to have a relative care for her son, but when her son was seven months old Genine had to switch to a different care provider. Several years later, Genine still worries about the effect these relationship disruptions may have had on her son.

What stands out in Genine’s memory is coming home from work each evening and, especially when her son’s caregiver seemed to have difficulty coping with a crying infant, being overcome with the feeling that what he really needed was his mother. Another consequence: Because she returned to work after only five weeks, Genine was not able to breastfeed her son for nearly as long as she was hoping to; she and her son had just finally mastered the techniques and settled into a routine when it was time for her to return to work.

In the United States, 62% of mothers with infants are in the workforce. Genine’s story is hardly unique, and her feelings echo the sentiments of many mothers across the country who do not have access to paid leave and so must return to the workforce during the momentous early months of their rapidly developing newborn’s life.  As Genine emphasized, “If I had been able to stay home with my son for one year, or six months, or even three months, it would have made a big difference.”

There is hope for all the new moms, dads, and families who need time to care for others. The momentum from the anniversary of FMLA has continued toward the next step of ensuring that all workers have access to paid family leave insurance. Quite simply, such leave would allow workers to receive a portion of their pay when it is necessary to take time away from their jobs for specific family or medical needs.

Last year, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced federal legislation, the Family And Medical Insurance Leave Act (the FAMILY Act), that would provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of paid leave for their own serious illness; the serious illness of a child, parent, or spouse (including a domestic partner); the birth or adoption of a child; the injury of a family member who is in the military; or exigencies arising from a service member’s deployment.

The FAMILY Act builds on successful state family and medical leave insurance programs. Family leave insurance has existed in California since 2004 and in New Jersey since 2009; earlier this year Rhode Island became the third state to implement legislation putting into place paid family leave. Analyses of California’s law show that both employers and employees have benefited from the program. In New Jersey, the program costs are even lower than expected.

A national paid family leave policy would provide job security and consistent income during a time when it is essential for parents to bond with a new child or care for an ill family member. There is evidence that such leave policies not only help promote parent–child attachment and improve child health but also improve the economic conditions of families.

As Genine acknowledged, family leave at heart is about building a relationship that would help set her baby’s course for a lifetime. A baby’s early relationships, especially with parents, shape the architecture of the developing brain as well as their ability to form trusting relationships later on in life. These relationships require a depth of love for and knowledge of a child that a primary caregiver comes to possess through care, consistency, and, above all, time.

  • A period of paid leave after birth contributes to the healthy development of infants and toddlers.
    • Time at home with newborns, infants, and toddlers gives parents the time they need to breastfeed, attend well-child medical visits, and ensure that their children receive all necessary immunizations.
    • While more than three quarters of women initiate breastfeeding, only 36% continue through six months of age. Studies find that returning to work is a leading impediment to continuing nursing.
  • Family and medical leave improves outcomes for the entire family, including parents and caregivers.
    • Longer leave periods are associated with benefits for the mother as well as the baby, including declines in depressive symptoms, a reduction in the likelihood of severe depression, and improvement in overall health.
  • Paid leave policies can benefit employers, taxpayers, and the economy, now and in the future.
    • Positive, consistent relationships during a baby’s early years yield confident individuals who are better equipped for success in school and in life, paving the way for a higher quality workforce and strong economic growth.

What can you do?

  • For more facts on paid family leave, click here.
  • To ask your Members of Congress to cosponsor the FAMILY Act, click here.
  • To get involved in the movement, join the FAMILY Act tweet storm on Wednesday, February 5th from 3:00-4:00 pm ET. You can follow along or contribute to the conversation using the hashtags #FMLA21, #FAMILYAct and #paidleave.
  • Share your story! Send a tweet to your legislators and let them know about the importance of paid family leave and the FAMILY Act.

References:

U.S. Census Bureau, “Women 16 to 50 Years Who Had a Birth in the Past 12 Months by Marital Status and Labor Force Status: Table B13012.” In 2012 American Community Survey. U.S. Census Bureau, 2013. www.census.gov.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General, 2011, www.surgeongeneral.gov.

Eileen Applebaum and Ruth Milkman. Leaves that Pay: Employer and Worker Experiences with Paid Family Leave in California, January 2011. www.cepr.net.

Vicky Lovell, Women and Paid Sick Days: Crucial for Family Well-Being. Institute for Women’s Policy Research, January 2007. www.iwpr.org.

Pinka Chatterji and Sara Markowitz, Family Leave After Childbirth and the Health of New Mothers. National Bureau of Economic Research, 2008. www.nber.org.

National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, From Neurons to Neighborhood: The Science of Early Childhood Development. Jack Shonkoff and Deborah A. Phillips, eds. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2000.

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What’s in the Strong Start Bill for Babies?

There’s a lot of buzz about early learning on Capitol Hill these days, especially with the introduction of the Strong Start for America’s Children Act on November 13. The Senate bill (S. 1697), introduced by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), now has 17 cosponsors. The bipartisan House bill (H.R. 3461), introduced by Rep. George Miller (D-CA) and Richard Hanna (R-NY), has added 23 more cosponsors. You can still ask your Members of Congress to join them in support of the youngest learners!

While the centerpiece PreKindergarten program gets the lion’s share of attention, this statement bill in fact recognizes that learning starts at birth and cobbles together a birth-to-five continuum of programs. It is often hard for policymakers to readily grasp how federal programs can address the needs of infants and toddlers. When they hear the word “PreK”, most can visualize what that means—a classroom in a community program or school, with teachers, books, and other equipment, where a variety of activities that seem at least somewhat related to later education are occurring. So the question for four year-olds is: How do we give more of them the opportunity for this experience?

But for babies, a different question must be asked, and the answer is not so pat as for older preschoolers. We don’t (and wouldn’t want to) visualize babies all trooping off to one destination—they are at home with their families, in child care, a few are in Early Head Start. So the question becomes, how do we reach babies who are at risk and their families wherever they are, and support their parents and other caregivers with high quality services in supporting a baby’s earliest learning?

The Strong Start Act takes on this question, as the President’s early learning proposal did, by conceptually linking different approaches to addressing the developmental needs of infants and toddlers. These approaches are: reaching children at home through home visiting; using Early Head Start as the standard for the most at-risk children; and improving child care. A more complete explanation of the bill and its provisions for babies can be found on the Rally4Babies website, but a summary of its major points is below:

  • Early Learning Quality Partnerships would expand Early Head Start services through partnerships with child care. The Strong Start bill picks up the President’s proposed partnerships between Early Head Start and child care programs, which would increase the number of EHS-eligible children in child care receiving services that meet the EHS standards. In the process, quality of child care services for other children in the same programs would increase. Many providers would augment their skills and credentials, which will benefit any children for whom they subsequently care. The House bill adopted the President’s proposed $1.4 billion funding level for the partnership program.  In a strong statement about the need to support the earliest development and learning of infants and toddlers, the Senate bill upped the proposed funding for this program to $4 billion in 2014. Read our new fact sheets for more info on EHS basics and how partnerships might work.
  • Extending the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) Program gets a thumbs-up. The bill includes a “Sense of the House/Senate” that MIECHV should be extended, which might seem to fall a little short of the President’s bold proposal to expand the program. The bill’s sponsors weren’t drawing back from that lofty goal, just avoiding a jurisdictional muddle because MIECHV is overseen by different Committees than the other early childhood education programs in the bill such as Head Start.
  • The Access to Prekindergarten program would allow PreK funds to be used for improving child care for infants and toddlers. In a departure from the President’s proposal, under the Strong Start bill states could use 15% of their funds for the new PreK program for high-quality early care and learning programs for infants and toddlers. This is an important signal to states that they should be doing more to prevent children from falling behind from the start. In fact, we believe this provision should ultimately be a mandatory expenditure. The bill also requires states to show that implementing the new PreK program, with its possible drain on highly qualified early childhood teachers as well as four year olds who are less expensive to serve, won’t reduce the availability of child care for babies.

What’s next for early learning on Capitol Hill? Attention now is focused on the budget negotiations. The top concern is whether Congress will replace the cuts under the sequester that resulted in a loss of Head Start/Early Head Start services for 57,000 children as well as loss of other benefits to families such as housing assistance. And just maybe the budget conferees will listen to the buzz about early learning and include investments in the workforce of the future.

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National Infant and Toddler Child Care InitiativeComing Together Around Military FamiliesNational Training InstituteEarly Head Start

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