Every child is born into possibility, yet for too many the opportunity to reach that possibility is inequitable from the start. People of color and their children face stark disparities to survive, thrive, and learn. This is especially true for pregnant women of color and their babies. Fostering opportunity, and equity, must begin even before birth.
A recent New York Times Magazine article powerfully conveyed how black infants are more than two times as likely to die as white infants and how “this is intimately intertwined with another tragedy: a crisis of death and near death in black mothers themselves.”
The lived experience of a black person can reduce their chances of a healthy pregnancy and birth, as well as the survival of their infant. Living in poverty further lessens the chances for children to flourish.
About 19 percent of our nation’s children live in poverty, and the numbers are even more devastating for children of color: 34 percent for African Americans, 34 percent for American Indians, 28 percent for Latinos/ Hispanics, and 20 percent for mixed race children. The long-term consequences of ongoing poverty and adverse experiences are especially severe for the youngest children, making it less likely that they will graduate from high school, complete college, or be consistently employed as adults.
These inequities have been created over generations. As the enslavement of blacks was ending in the United States in the 1860s, Washington State was establishing the first boarding school on the Yakima Reservation. Though the Supreme Court decision on Brown v. Board of Education was rendered in 1954, the fight to desegregate schools continued into the 1970s. In 1965, Head Start became the first attempt to create equity nationally in early childhood education. A half century later the struggle for education equity still continues. A Yale Child Center study in 2016 found that even though African-American children make up 19 percent of the preschool population, they comprise 47 percent of preschoolers that are suspended.
Today we know more than ever about maternal health and the critical earliest months and years of a child’s life. We know that 90 percent of a child’s brain develops during the first three years of life—and that by the time children are eight years old and usually in third grade, much of what they need to succeed in life has already been established. That includes cognitive, social and emotional development, gross motor skills, and the foundations of executive functioning, including the ability to pay attention, manage emotions and solve problems.
We can be the generation to disrupt the cycle if we pair knowledge with action. Strategically investing in mothers and children with prevention and intervention at critical development points in their early years can not only prevent negative outcomes later in life but can set the trajectory for lifelong success.
Forty years of our collective experience in 50 communities and 20 states has shown us that high-quality, community-based support during pregnancy, birth, and early parenting saves lives. When we foster positive social and emotional development, we grow healthy brains and compassionate human beings who have better chances of reaching their full potential. The struggle for equity and the wellbeing of our children begins before birth. This is urgent and there is no time to waste.
What Can You Do?
- Read The Perinatal Revolution to learn more about the critical role community-based doula programs can play in improving maternal and child health outcomes
- Become an outspoken advocate for birth equity and early learning
- Support organizations that advance community-driven solutions like HealthConnect One and Open Arms
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