Part of our work as the ACE Resource Network is to stay informed of the latest developments in ACE-related fields, and to learn about work being done by many partners in prevention and intervention efforts that strengthen the wellbeing of children and families. To this end, we had the privilege of (virtually) attending the Zero to Three Annual Conference October 5th through 9th, a week packed full of informative, intense, and inspiring presentations and workshops. Enthusiasm and passion for supporting young children and their families emanated from a committed community of experts, scholars, researchers, practitioners, parents, advocates, and more.
There were a number of incredibly valuable gems of wisdom shared during the week. While infants and toddlers don’t have a voice in the way their lives are designed, it was powerful to hear from so many knowledgeable and deeply caring people who actively work and advocate on their behalf every day. There are many ways we can help be a voice for the voiceless – especially babies, children, and youth experiencing adversity; from learning and sharing relevant stories and the data they represent, to engaging parents in ways ranging from innovative to evidence-based, to challenging long-standing norms that don’t serve all families and communities. Following are some key insights gleaned from sessions we attended.
- “Bringing Self-Compassion and Care Home: Learning by Nurturing” addressed the culturally diverse ways self-care is conceptualized and practiced. These included mindfulness as a social-emotional learning tool in the classroom for young children, as a buffer (along with self-care and self-efficacy) for reducing intergenerational trauma transmission from parent to child, and as a group practice for marginalized youth, families, and communities to build collective capacity to promote social justice. Especially powerful was the affirmation that “If we carry intergenerational trauma, then we also carry intergenerational wisdom.” (Kazu Haga)
(Presenters: Kandace Thomas, PhD; Sarah Bergman Lewis, MD; Angie Tamayo Montero, LMHCA)
- “Let the Good Times Roll to Promote Resilience” emphasized the benefits of positive experiences during childhood to increase resilience, introducing an innovative parent-child parenting group, “Better Together.” Normalizing parenting struggles, validating parents with empathy in a judgment-free environment, supporting parents in learning about child development and parenting strategies, developing supportive relationships with parents, facilitating relationships between parents and their kids, and between parents and other parents – these strategies help reduce the potential for ACEs and buffer their impact. “It takes more than love to make a strong parent.”
(Presenter: Vonda Jump Norman, PhD)
- “Defunding Mindfulness” explored the challenging question of where the mindfulness movement has been during the recent revolution to fight for Black lives and end police brutality. We were asked to envision a new mindfulness, an ally to breaking down systemic racism, and consider neurodecolonization – using contemplative practices to decolonize the brain from the effects of racism, historical trauma, and all the effects of colonization. Especially resonant was a description of the sacred connection between mother and child in the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara tribes: “What happens to the mother, happens to the child.”
(Presenter: Michael Yellow Bird, MSW, PhD)
- “Infants and Toddlers Face Racism Too: Science, Practice, and Policy” addressed how racism affects America’s youngest residents. We reviewed research on how infants and toddlers perceive race, how historical trauma affects families of young children, and how racism affects science, children, and families. We took a critical look at the science of child development – which informs everything from how we define risk and protective factors, how we prevent harm, how we intervene, and what work we do or should be doing with children and families. However, the science of child development is largely based on WEIRD (white, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic) populations, which represent only 12% of humans. We must consider context and culture, including the significant influences of poverty, racism, and other oppression that are unequally shared by populations. “Work on creating the conditions to be anti-racist in all aspects of your life.”
(Presenters: Cynthia García Coll, PhD; Iheoma Iruka, PhD; Kandace Thomas, PhD, Kang Lee, PhD; Marva L. Lewis, PhD)
- “The Most Powerful Voice Is Yours: Urging Policymakers to Think Babies” featured a panel of advocates sharing their journeys, the impact of their work, and how to leverage knowledge and passion to make a difference for our nation’s babies. One encouraging validation is that there are rarely quick wins; advocacy is about the long haul. When working with a family, parent, or child to change behavior, we need to celebrate small wins, knowing they can lead to larger life transformations; the same principles apply to policy. Another advocacy tip stood out as particularly resonant: “You’re enough. Your story is enough. Don’t try to fit in or fit someone else’s narrative. Be your authentic self.”
(Presenters: Brenda Jones Harden, PhD; Brooke Cisneros, mom and ECE; Destiny Prieto, mom)
- “Rapid Assessment of Pandemic Impact on Development (RAPID) Early Childhood” included a briefing and discussion of an ongoing survey of over 1,000 households – nationally representative in terms of geography, income, race, and ethnicity – with at least one child aged five and under. The survey aims to assess the wellbeing of US households with young children during the COVID-19 pandemic, beginning April 6th, 2020. The overall findings as of September 11, 2020 show that difficulty paying for basic needs is at the root of hardships for families. Data shows a chain reaction of hardship; caregivers have trouble meeting basic needs (food, housing, child care, etc.), and in weeks to follow they experience depression and anxiety. Following that, there’s a rise in children’s emotional distress. Household emotional distress rises and falls locally in parallel with infection rates. COVID-19 is widening inequality gaps based on income, race/ethnicity, and family structure. “Something’s got to give.”
(Presenters: Philip A. Fisher, PhD; Brenda Jones Harden, PhD; Joan Lombardi, PhD; Myra Jones-Taylor, PhD; Natalie Renew; Portia Kennel)
- “Development and Parenting Begin Before Birth: The Science of Fetal Origins of Future Child Health” addressed factors that shape a child’s life even before they are born, including maternal stress, maternal childhood trauma, racism, and poverty. Studies have shown nearly doubled rates of child ADHD and anxiety when mothers reported high prenatal anxiety. Maternal childhood maltreatment affects the next generation via maternal depression; fetuses of depressed women are more reactive, and have much higher rates of preterm birth. Depression during pregnancy affects 10-15% of women, but around 40% of those in poverty. Racism impacts babies and pregnancies, including implicit bias in medical care. Black babies have higher rates of poor birth outcomes, including low birth weight, high infant mortality, and more premature births. Black mothers have higher mortality rates, independent of socioeconomic status. Access to quality behavioral health interventions along with social support during pregnancy are critical needs that promise lasting, transformative outcomes. “We can help pregnant and postpartum [people], and by doing so, also help the next generation.”
(Presenter: Catherine Monk, PhD)
- In “Equity and Inclusion in Family Engagement Programs,” we examined how using this lens in design and implementation ensures that practices and principles reach and reflect all families. Ensuring children are treated with equity is key to their wellbeing. The Children’s Equity Project shared about three key policy areas that strongly influence children’s experiences in the classroom: 1) harsh discipline and its disproportionate application, 2) lack of inclusion of children with disabilities, and 3) inequitable access to high-quality learning for dual language and English learners. Their recommendations across themes include funding programs to support children from marginalized communities, requiring states to make progress on equity plans in federal funding applications, incorporating equity into accountability systems, prioritizing inclusive learning, funding equity technical assistance, supporting educator preparation and development grounded in equity, funding data collection on child wellbeing, and including funding in economic stimulus bills on equitable access to quality early education. “To fully engage families, we must suspend judgment and be aware of our own biases.”
(Presenters: Rosemarie Allen, PhD; Shantel Meek, PhD)
- The week came to an end with a powerful closing address, “Why Children Are America’s Number One Issue,” by Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist, author, and journalist Nicholas Kristof. He shared the themes covered in his latest book, Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope (coauthored with wife Sheryl WuDunn), which explores why a quarter of the kids on his old school bus are now dead from drugs, alcohol, or suicide – “deaths of despair,” why tragedy has fallen over many communities like his, evidenced by life expectancy falling for three years in a row in the US (pre-COVID) for the first time in a century, why suicide is at its highest rate since World War II, why one in seven children lives with a parent with a substance abuse problem. He offered critique of the excuses the US makes for the vast divide between the top one percent of income earners and the bottom fifty percent, stating that “the narrative of personal responsibility has been a fifty year catastrophe.” He championed children as the best leverage we have to make the world a better place. He called for a new version of the American dream – one that includes everybody. “When we get policy right, and we can transform the prospects for a child, we transform the prospects for the country.”
These represent only a fraction of the many brilliant, dedicated leaders represented at the 2020 Zero to Three Annual Conference, not to mention the thousands of attendees engaged in rich discussions working to transform the prospects for our youngest residents – and indeed transform the prospects for the country. After witnessing the depths of wisdom and compassion present in this conference, even during these uncertain times, we are assured of this: There is great reason to hope.