Rhode Island’s most innocent and most vulnerable population is at the most risk of living in poverty and experiencing neglect and abuse.
In 2013, 25 percent of infants and toddlers under the age of 3 were living below the poverty line in Rhode Island, according to Kids Count’s newest report, “Infants, Toddlers, and their Families Rhode Island.” Nationally, this population is three times more likely to be living in poverty than adults 65 and older.
Similarly, infants and toddlers are the most likely to experience neglect and abuse; between 2009 and 2013, 25 percent of deaths due to maltreatment and 62 percent of hospitalizations for maltreatment in Rhode Island involved a child under the age of 3, according to the report.
During the first three years of a child’s life, their brain will grow up to 90 percent of its adult size, developing essential neural functions, but infants and toddlers living in poverty or experiencing abuse or neglect can have lasting negative impacts. Children living in these conditions can experience “toxic stress,” which can lead to chronic disease as an adult, autoimmune deficiencies and depression, according to Kids Count.
To address and combat this, Kids Count released its newest issue brief at a policy roundtable event held June 4 at Save the Bay with more than 60 stakeholders. The publication, “Next Steps For infants, Toddlers & Their Families,” offers recommendations on how the state can improve the health and development of Rhode Island’s youngest citizens.
Leanne Barrett, senior policy analyst, while explaining to participants the issue brief, said, “With infants and toddlers everything is a priority. The relationships babies have with parents and caregivers are the building blocks for healthy development.”
Because these relationships are so important, an infant or toddler’s health and emotional well being are often interconnected with the well being of those taking care of them, from parents to caregivers.
Kids Count published a partner publication to their issue brief, titled “Next Steps for Infants, Toddlers and Their Families” with recommendations concerning infant and toddler health. Some of the suggestions are expanding job and educational opportunities for parents while also creating more affordable housing.
Two hundred and two children under the age of 3 stayed in a shelter or transitional housing facility in 2014. Homeless children are more likely to be placed in foster care and experience hunger and health problems as well as developmental delays.
Kids Count recommends routine screenings for depression and other mental health concerns for pregnant women and new parents. Similarly, expanding the use of “evidence-based family visiting” programs such as Healthy Families America, Nurse-Family Partnership and Parents as Teachers.
As of October 2014, 500 families in Rhode Island were enrolled in one of the three programs.
“Children in at-risk families who participate in high-quality, evidence-based family home visiting programs have improved language, cognitive and social-emotional development and are less likely to experience child abuse and neglect,” the report stated.
Elizabeth Burke Bryant, executive director of Kids Count, said, “We have to focus on the latest data to create better policies. That’s why having all these groups come together is so important.”
She assured that Kids Count has tremendous support from the state and a “solid foundation of progress to work off of.” For example, Rhode Island’s Rite Care, the state’s Medicaid care program for uninsured families, is ranked number one in the country, according to Bryant.
Rhode Island also launched Rhode Island’s Temporary Caregiver Insurance Program in 2014 that gives users four weeks of wage replacement benefits to those needing time to bond with a new child.
Bryant said, “We want to build on this progress and keep going.”
For more information on Kids Count or to read the full Issue Brief or Next Steps, Kids Count’s publication of recommendations visit www.rikidscount.org.