Easter Maynard: Stronger Kids and Families Make a Stronger NC

We need to strengthen families to build a strong community. It all starts with smart infant and toddler programs and services. By participating in the Think Babies NC campaign, private and public organizations are working to create healthy beginnings for our children, provide high-quality early care and education and support families.

The reality is that all of our children in North Carolina do not have the same opportunities for healthy development. The North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation’s new policy brief Opportunity for All? North Carolina’s Babies and Toddlers of Color shines a light on the current disparities in outcomes—and opportunity—among groups of young children and their families.

Compared to white children and adults:

  • Adults of color are less likely to have health insurance, which can impact babies’ health at birth.
  • Black and American Indian babies are more likely to be born with low birthweight, regardless of their mothers’ education status, which is a proxy for income.
  • Young children of color are less likely to have access to health insurance and immunizations.
  • Young children of color are more likely to live in poverty.
  • Children of color are less likely to have access to high-quality early education.

North Carolina is becoming increasingly racially and ethnically diverse—close to 50 percent of babies born in 2016 were of color. Half of North Carolina’s future workforce, leaders and innovators will be of color, yet there are currently obstacles to their success. Prioritizing strategies that eliminate barriers for children of color improves outcomes for all of North Carolina’s youngest children.

Research demonstrates that to be successful lifelong learners, young children need good health, supported and supportive families and communities, and high-quality early care and education. Hundreds of early childhood leaders and stakeholders across North Carolina have co-created a plan to get us there. The Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Action Framework presents what all North Carolinians should be able to expect from the systems that serve young children and families and proposes actions we can take to improve opportunity and outcomes.

What I find inspiring is that our state’s citizens favor funding the programs needed to strengthen and support parents and children.

The new NC Early Childhood Foundation bipartisan voter poll of North Carolina citizens found that, regardless of party, the vast majority of North Carolina voters support increasing state investment in early childhood and family programs. This translates into a demand that has grown significantly since the last poll in 2016, which also evidenced strong public support.

There is much to be done to strengthen our state’s programs for babies and toddlers, and this year is pivotal in making meaningful change. Let’s make 2019 the year that all of North Carolina is ready to Think Babies!

Easter Maynard is board chair of the NC Early Childhood Foundation, a community advocate and mother of three. She lives in Raleigh, but the Foundation works statewide.