New analysis ranks states by how well they support children during their first three years of life

February 26, 2019

New research from early childhood experts at Child Trends and Zero to Three finds that the state in which a child is born and spends the first three years of their life has a significant impact on their future health, well-being, and success. The State of Babies Yearbook: 2019 compiles and examines more than 60 policies and indicators related to infant and toddler well-being to rank states by how effectively they support children during their first three years.

A state’s overall ranking is determined based on its performance in three key categories: children’s health (health care access, food security, maternal health, etc.), family supports (prevalence of adverse childhood experiences, home visiting services, paid leave policies, etc.), and early learning (early care and education opportunities, developmental screening, etc.).

While all states have room to grow, some are doing better than others in ensuring that babies get a strong start in life:

  • Twelve states (CO, CT, DE, ME, MD, MA, MN, MT, NH, RI, VT, and WA) are working effectively to support children (the highest ranking). For example, MA, NH, RI, and VT receive the highest scores in all three categories related to infant and toddler well-being (health, family supports, and early learning). However, other states receive strong scores in some areas and lower scores in others; DE, for example, receives strong scores in early learning and family supports while scoring low for health-related policies and indicators.
  • Twelve states (AK, HI, IA, MO, NE, NJ, NM, NC, OH, OR, PA, and SD) and DC are working to improve outcomes for children. In general, these states received middling scores. Some states in this category may excel in one category but need improvement in the remaining categories.
  • Thirteen states (CA, GA, ID, IN, KS, LA, MI, NY, ND, SC, UT, VA, and WI) have made some progress toward supporting infants and toddlers, but have significant opportunities to strengthen policies for infants and toddlers and their performance in key indicators. These states generally received low-to-middling ranks in at least two, but typically all three, categories.
  • An additional 13 states (AL, AZ, AR, FL, IL, KY, MS, NV, OK, TN, TX, WV, and WY) received generally low scores in all three categories, and have a significant opportunity to work to improve the lives of their infants and toddlers.

Additionally, states vary widely on key indicators related to infant and toddler well-being. For example:

  • The infant mortality rate across states ranges from a low of 3.7 deaths per 1,000 births in NH to a high of 9.1 in AL (compared with 6.0 per 1,000 nationwide).
  • Participation rates of eligible infants and toddlers in Early Head Start ranges from 3 percent in TN to 21 percent in VT
  • The percentage of infants and toddlers receiving a developmental screening in the last year ranged from 7.2 in MS to 58.8 in OR.

“The first three years of life are a critical period that impacts a child’s lifelong health, well-being, and success. This report can help public officials and advocates make sure their state is doing everything possible to support children’s development from their very first moments in the world,” said Sarah Daily, a lead author on the report and early childhood expert at Child Trends. “Every state has room to grow to make sure that children can have a strong start in life, no matter where they are born.”

The State of Babies Yearbook: 2019 is a collaborative effort between Zero to Three, an early childhood development nonprofit, and Child Trends, a nonpartisan research organization. The Yearbook was produced as part of Zero to Three’s Think Babies campaign.