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Communications > The GrassRoots > Posts > Minding Our Future: Investing in Healthy Infants and Toddlers

Written By: Sallie Lide- Hooker, MA, CFCS, FDC, Certified Family Life Educator, Regional Extension Agent, Alabama Cooperative Extension System


What happens during the first three years of life affects children for a lifetime. This was the message presented to the 18 participants at a recent forum hosted by Judge William D. Owings, the Children's Policy Council and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System with Matt Hartzell, county Extension coordinator for Bibb County and Sallie Lide-Hooker, regional Extension agent, Family and Child Development.

After Judge Owings and Hartzell welcomed the group, Kristin Foster, acting director of the David Matthews Center for Civic Life, facilitated the forum.

The group learned that there are 182, 171 infants and toddlers living in the state of Alabama, of whom 29 percent under age three live in families of poverty, 52 percent of children under age three live in low-income families (incomes lower than 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level). Sixty percent of Alabama mothers with infants are in the labor force while 13 percent of children under three live in families where parents are unemployed. Thirty-nine percent of children under age three live with a single parent.

Alabama ranks 44th in the nation on child well-being.

Participants were made aware that many people treat babies according to out-of-date beliefs about what babies can or cannot do, why they behave as they do and how they learn. Dr. Ellen Abell, an Extension family and child development specialist, and associate professor, at Auburn University Department of Human Development and Family Studies, provided in the issue guide Comparisons of Past Belief and Current Knowledge.

She included that, "Evidence from brain development research urges us to reinforce our efforts to provide environments that meet the true developmental needs of infants and toddlers.

Home and child care settings meet these needs best when they:

  • Make time for affection and comfort; anticipate, attune to, and responds to children's behaviors, cues, and needs;
  • Communicate warmth and positive regard;
  • Provide and engage in play opportunities; and
  • Respond kindly and firmly to behaviors.

Adults make it possible for infants and toddlers to thrive for a lifetime when they nurture close and responsive relationships with them, create safe and interesting surroundings that match their changing abilities, allow for time to explore, and offer emotional and intellectual support for their discovery and learning."

Participants addressed three approaches considering examples of what might be done considering consequences of each approach. Approach One addressed "Develop Caring Adults", Approach Two addressed "Create Healthy and Thriving Communities", and Approach Three addressed "Provide Access to Services."

Participants provided stimulating and thoughtful input for each topic. Discussion results suggested "breaking the cycle" (of poor parenting skills), providing more community-wide events to educate parents and students, and community development of resources needed to respond to unique needs. A challenge that was identified was, "Communities are disappearing." Parents may not be involved in the community.

Action ideas identified by the participants included: Utilize your Extension Office; more outreach, in general; and whatever your thing is, use that to connect people with what they need. Entities identified to include were church leaders, principals and other educators, city leaders, health department, community leaders, and of course, families.

If you are interested in attending a Minding Our Future Forum, the David Matthews Center for Civic is facilitating them state wide. For information regarding one near you, contact Sallie Hooker at (334) 875-3200.