Nearly four million babies are born in the U.S. every year. They represent the future of our country -- future workforce, parents, leaders and innovators. Investments in their health and well-being will determine the nation's long-term productivity and success. Much of this responsibility rests on the shoulders of their families. And many families today are stressed by the challenge of making ends meet while juggling caring for their young children.
If today's families of young children could ask the 2016 Presidential candidates how they would ensure parents have what they need to give their children the best chance to play a role in the country's future success, what would they ask? Here is our take on what would likely be in their top 10, based on what we hear from families every day:
1. What will you do to make it possible for all parents to afford time off from work to give their newborns or newly adopted babies a good start in life? Bringing a new baby into a family changes its dynamic. Infants need the love and care of their parents or caregivers - beginning on day one. This means ensuring parents and babies have quality time together to forge a strong, secure bond that research shows has an impact on cognitive, social and emotional development into adulthood.
2. What will you do to make sure families can find high quality, affordable child care for their children - well before PreK? Babies begin learning the minute they enter the world. When parents work, quality child care is essential to baby's overall, long-term well-being. Science clearly shows that experience in concert with genetic programming shapes the architecture of the brain. If a child's experience in the world includes as many as 6 to 12 hours of care outside the home, the quality of this care is critical. It is also critical to families' livelihood, making it possible for parents and other caregivers to go to work with the secure knowledge that their child is in a safe, stable, positive environment.
3. How will you help working families bridge the gap between their paychecks and what it costs to provide the basic necessities for their children? Many parents and caregivers need to work long hours and/or multiple jobs to provide for their families. Often these jobs don't pay enough to cover the basics of daily living. Hardworking families--and their children--benefit from policies like the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, which provide critical resources that can be used for basic needs, quality child care and more.
4. What will you do to help parents access resources designed to help them become great parents and give their children the strongest possible foundation for learning? New parents and caregivers often feel isolated and scared. Babies don't come with instruction manuals, and for those families without strong support networks, learning how to be a parent can feel especially overwhelming.
5. What will you do to help families who served our country transition more easily to civilian life? Military families have access to many resources designed to help them succeed. Once their service comes to an end, however, veterans' families often lose access to these resources and face huge obstacles, including inadequate healthcare, lack of job opportunities or limited options for child care.
6. What will you do to help parents care for their sick young child without putting their jobs and livelihood at risk? When employers don't allow parents or other caregivers time off to take their children to the doctor for preventive check-ups or when they are sick and then nurse them back to health, families suffer significant financial and emotional consequences.
7. What will you do to promote resiliency and strong mental health in children, starting at birth, when the foundation of emotional well-being begins? The critical importance of mental health rises to the top of everyone's mind, from elected officials to the broader public, following a tragic event like Sandy Hook. But the typical responses often focus only on teen or adult mental health, serious emotional disturbance or criminal prosecution, ignoring the real issue. They miss the opportunity to prevent many mental health problems from forming early by promoting positive social emotional health and development from birth.
8. What will you do to help parents access early intervention and mental health services for the youngest children - beginning in infancy? Developmental and mental health problems can be addressed and treated most effectively when they are detected very early in a child's life. For many families, however, finding access to providers trained to work with babies and young toddlers is a huge challenge. Young children will not just "grow out of it." We should make sure families are able turn to infant-toddler professionals to help keep babies' development on track and prevent small problems from growing into bigger ones.
9. What will you do to make sure children have the positive early learning experiences they need - all the way from birth through prekindergarten - in order to be school ready? Starting from day one, early childhood is a continuous period of exploration and wonder as children learn through positive and supportive early experiences with parents and other caregivers, including early childhood educators. At each stage of development, such experiences help children build skill upon skill--no stage is more important than another. Giving parents and caregivers the ability to find quality, affordable early care and learning opportunities from birth until their children head off to kindergarten is critical for long-term development and success.
10. What will you do to expand access to programs that are proven to support young children and their families, and combat the damaging effects poverty can have on babies and toddlers? One in four babies and young toddlers in this country is born into poverty, which is associated with a negative impact on children's early learning and social-emotional development. For many families, having access to proven, quality programs - like Early Head Start - gives children and their parents and other caregivers the tools and resources necessary to succeed in the critical early years and beyond. The demand for these programs far outstrips the funding provided by the federal government, and far too many families are left without any options.