We are Failing our Babies and their Childcare Providers

Good nutrition is especially crucial during early childhood, when a child’s brain and body are undergoing rapid growth and development. No Kid Hungry is focused on making sure that children get more of the healthy food they need during this important time. As part of this work, we partnered with the RAPID survey project team to collect essential information from families with young children and child care providers that can inform and guide our strategies.

According to the RAPID survey’s latest findings, titled Households with Young Children and Child Care Providers are Still Facing Hunger, approximately 1 in 4 families with young children experienced hunger in February, 2022.

Bay girl eating

It is hard to appreciate how devastating this reality is for those parents and caregivers who must face unthinkable tradeoffs at a time when they are already exhausted and overwhelmed caring for young children. What stress does this cause in a family? How can parents and other caregivers comfort a child who is hungry?

The RAPID findings revealed that “92% of child care providers reported that the food their center or program provides is “important” or “very important” and kids would go hungry without it.” Additionally, more than 1 in 4 of child care providers reported being concerned about the children they care for experiencing food insufficiency at home in April 2022. While the benefits of early child care programs are well documented, what is less discussed is the critical role child care plays in ensuring that millions of young children have enough nutritious food to eat every day.

Another startling finding from the RAPID report: one in three child care providers reported experiencing hunger themselves (February 2022). The very people who are charged with taking care of our food insecure children are themselves struggling with food insecurity. How can someone who is also worried about how to stretch their dollars to feed their family be expected to address their young students’ hunger without adequate support and funding?

A home-based provider in Kansas described their experience to the RAPID team, “I need to raise my rates to be able to afford to pay my bills and buy food for my family, but my daycare families can barely afford to pay me.”

Here’s why this is so important. Food insecurity, particularly during these early years, can have detrimental effects on cognitive, physical, and social/emotional development. “Every child deserves the opportunity to thrive – but millions of young children don’t get this opportunity. Their families need support and children need nurturing and nourishment for their bodies and brains to grow. The first 1,000 days are a window of opportunity to break this cycle, build more equal beginnings and put all children on track to flourish. What we do – or don’t do – now to build every child’s potential will determine their future—and ours,” said Blythe Thomas, Director, 1,000 Days of FHI Solutions.

Toddler looking up at camera

Fortunately, there are concrete steps we can take to ensure more young children get the food they need. Programs like WIC and SNAP help meet the nutritional needs of infants, young children, and new mothers. But these programs need to be strengthened to reach more of the families who need them. Some important policy priorities include increasing SNAP benefits to ensure they more accurately reflect the cost of a nutritious diet; extending program certifications periods for WIC; and expanding access to online shopping and delivery. Our youngest children are truly our future. In the coming months, we will be working with allies and elected leaders to urge action to strengthen these essential programs.