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Well-being of many babies at risk, report finds

If the mental and physical well-being of our nation’s babies and toddlers are powerful indicators of our nation’s overall health, then all is not well for the country’s smallest citizens, according to the “State of Babies Yearbook: 2022.” 

In every state, by nearly every measure, children living in low-income families and children of color face the biggest hurdles, the report suggests. Only 11% of eligible infants and toddlers have access to Early Head Start nationally, according to the annual report from Zero To Three, an early childhood advocacy and research organization, while California provides access to 14%.

California is home to roughly 1,352,608 babies (ages 0 to 3 years), representing 3.4% of the state’s population. As many as 36% live in households with incomes less than twice the federal poverty line (that’s about $52,400 for a family of four in 2020). 

That’s concerning because babies of color and babies in low-income families are more likely to have experiences that produce chronic stress, which can undermine development, the report finds. The effects of this stress can last a lifetime, experts say. 

In terms of heath, California performs better than national averages on key measures, such as the infant mortality rate and the percentage of mothers reporting mental health issues. However, the state is performing worse than national averages on indicators such as the percentages of babies with a medical home and babies receiving recommended vaccinations. It is also doing worse in terms of the percentages of babies living in crowded housing and parents who report living in unsafe neighborhoods.