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February 27, 2019

Florida Ranks Near Bottom in Services for Babies, Toddlers

The State of Babies Yearbook 2019 ranked Florida in the bottom 25 percent nationally in an analysis on how well all 50 states provide services for infants and toddlers.

Florida finished in the bottom 25 percent nationally in a new report on how well the state provides for babies and toddlers. The “State of Babies Yearbook 2019” cited Florida’s higher than national average numbers in several key metrics, including infant mortality rate, babies with low birth weight, and uninsured low-income babies for the ranking.

The report published by Zero to Three, a national organization focused on the needs of infants and toddlers, is designed to serve as a guide for lawmakers as they address shortcomings on a state level. This is the first year the organization has published the report.

“We really want this to be a document that will empower states to take action, not to hang their heads and be ashamed of it,” said Myra Jones-Taylor, the chief policy officer of Zero to Three.

Florida, along with 12 other states, ranked in the bottom 25 percent of states overall. Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, and Wyoming were similarly ranked. The top-ranked states included Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

According to the data, 10 percent of Florida’s youngest residents live in grandparent-headed households, 61 percent have working mothers, and 50 percent live in families with incomes less than twice the federal poverty level, a common metric for measuring the percentage of the population living paycheck to paycheck (in 2017, about $50,000 annually for a family of four). The report did not include data on what percentage of children live in homes with parents who are married, but it did report that 70 percent of Florida’s babies and toddlers live with two parents.

Florida has twice the national average number of infants and toddlers with developmental delays (1 percent nationally, versus 2 percent in Florida) — a statistic Jones-Taylor said could be attributed to the low number of children receiving developmental screenings and a low number of families receiving federal funding to address developmental issues. In Florida, just 20 percent of children receive developmental screening, compared to 30 percent nationally. The percentage of Florida’s infants receiving federal funding from the Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities is 2.1 percent, compared to 3 percent nationally.

“Those three numbers tell a very important story that we would love for legislators to pay attention to,” Jones-Taylor said. “The fact that you are not catching children early when we know that is the best time to catch a developmental delay means you are making it harder for those babies later in life to succeed. That is a real connection.”

Mothers of infants and toddlers reported having “less than optimal mental health” in Florida at a significantly higher rate than the national average. Florida’s moms reported poor mental health at a rate of 30 percent, compared to 22 percent nationally.

“We know mental health, in particular, is critical for a mother,” Jones-Taylor said. “Maternal depression has an incredibly negative impact on a child’s development.”

The report comes as researchers are ascribing increased importance to health and education during a child’s earliest years. Locally, the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading has spearheaded several initiatives aimed at helping parents of young children.

“Decades of research from numerous disciplines demonstrates that the first three years of a child’s life are a period of incredible growth and opportunity that shape every year that follows,” the report states.

The report wasn’t all bad news for the Sunshine State. Just 1.6 percent of infants and toddlers live in “unsafe neighborhoods,” compared to 6.3 percent nationally. And fewer children have had multiple “adverse childhood experiences,” with 6.3 percent of young children having experienced two or more traumatic events, compared to 8.3 percent nationally.

This story comes from a partnership between the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and the Herald-Tribune, funded by The Patterson Foundation, to cover school readiness, attendance, summer learning, healthy readers and parent engagement. Read more stories at

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