Better Data Needed for Monitoring and Promoting Infant and Toddler Well-Being

Research BriefEarly ChildhoodMar 15 2022

Children who are nurtured, protected, and supported in their first years of life are more likely to grow into healthy and productive adults. Specifically, the first three years of life are critical to healthy development because of the rapid changes in brain growth that occur when children are infants and toddlers. Yet many children are at risk of not developing optimal cognitive, physical, or social-emotional-behavioral health, and thus may not realize their full potential for well-being and positive outcomes. Monitoring child well-being with better data and common indicators may help states develop policies and programs that foster child development.

The opportunity at hand

Data-informed policies and programming have the potential to maximize benefits for all children, especially those who are disproportionately affected by poor health outcomes, such as American Indian or Alaska Native, Black, Hispanic, and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander children, as well as those living in poverty. Improved measurement of and reporting on the well-being of infants and toddlers would help monitor trends in infant and toddler outcomes and allow researchers to assess associations between individual factors, policies and programs, and overall health and development.

One way to measure the well-being of our youngest children is with state-level indicators that are captured at regular time intervals and comparable across all 50 states and Washington, DC. These types of indicators can help states see how their children fare compared to other communities, set goals or targets for policies and programs, invest in advantageous policies and programs, and respond to the needs of their youngest constituents. Yet current federal data sources with state-level indicators focus primarily on physical health instead of cognitive and social-emotional-behavioral health, both of which are important components of whole-child development.

Call to action

Policymakers and practitioners need more comprehensive data describing children’s overall health, including their cognitive and social-emotional-behavioral development. These data could more fully support infants and toddlers, as well as the parents, providers, and policymakers working to foster their development. The Measuring Up Collaborative—a group of developmental psychologists, behavioral health scientists, sociologists, and public health experts—came together to determine how to address these needs.