The Help Me Grow National Center recently partnered with ZERO TO THREE’s Think Babies™ Campaign in an effort to strategically promote the needs of infants and toddlers across the country. Stephanie Luczak from the Help Me Grow National Center recently interviewed Elizabeth DiLauro, Senior Director of Advocacy at ZERO TO THREE about the Campaign and ways that Help Me Grow affiliates can get involved and Think Babies.
SL: Tell me a little bit about the Think Babies™ Campaign. How did it originate and when did the campaign launch?
ED: ZERO TO THREE created Think Babies™ as a call to action for federal and state policymakers to prioritize the needs of infants, toddlers, and their families and invest in our future. The campaign launched in 2017 with our first Strolling Thunder™ event on Capitol Hill. Through this event, we bring families from every state to Washington DC to meet with their Members of Congress and share their experiences about raising young children and what they need to support their baby’s healthy development. We are getting ready right now to host our third Strolling Thunder event on April 30th! Since that first event, the campaign has taken off. We’re now partnering with leading children’s organizations in six states to implement state-level Think Babies campaigns to advocate for state policies that support babies and their families. At the same time, we’re expanding the national campaign through a growing network of more than 50 national partners, as well as regular digital advocacy activities, to raise awareness among policymakers about the issues facing families with young children and translate that awareness into action.
Finally, we have just published our first State of Babies Yearbook, which provides national and state-by-state data on the well-being of America’s babies.
SL: What are some of the overall goals of the Think Babies™ Campaign?
ED: Through the Think Babies campaign, ZERO TO THREE and partners are educating policymakers on how early experiences shape how the brain develops and lay the foundation for future learning, behavior, and health.
We advocate for federal and state policies that ensure that all babies and families have what they need to thrive, including: quality, affordable child care; time for parents to bond with their babies; healthy emotional development; and strong physical health and nutrition.
In the short term, we are working to raise visibility of the needs of infants and toddlers, to strengthen advocacy capacity and partnerships at the state and national level, and to increase public and political will and engagement on these important issues. These are the ingredients that we know, in the longer term, will lead to meaningful policy changes and public investments that support the potential of all babies and toddlers.
SL: In your opinion, what has been one of the greatest successes of the Think Babies™ Campaign thus far? What strategies helped make this success possible?
ED: Two words – Strolling Thunder! Hundreds of babies and parents storming the halls of Congress and state legislatures is something that our policymakers don’t experience every day and it’s creating a lasting impact. Hearing about the challenges of raising young children directly from parents – with their babies and toddlers right there in room – creates an incredibly powerful memory for policymakers, as well as their staff. It helps them realize how their policy decisions impact real families and, in many cases, how the lack of services for families with young children has consequences. Many of them remember those meetings and have reached back out to the Strolling Thunder families or ZERO TO THREE to ask for input on how their legislative proposals would impact families with young children.
Key to the success of Strolling Thunder is that we’re careful to keep the focus on the amazing families and babies who participate. Traveling with young kids is challenging under any circumstance, but bringing them to Washington, DC and to Capitol Hill is HARD work. So we do everything we can to make the event as easy as possible for the families. Whether that means scheduling meetings with Hill offices around nap times, ensuring parents have quiet spaces to nurse and feed their babies, or having a pajama party rather than a formal reception – ensuring the families have what they need to be comfortable and ready to advocate is our first priority.
SL: In addition to the Help Me Grow National Center, what other organizations have partnered with the Think Babies™ Campaign and in what ways?
ED: Think Babies is powered by a growing network of over 50 national partners across the country. Partner organizations bring expertise on a range of topics to the campaign, including: early learning, nutrition, racial and economic equity, infant and early childhood mental health, paid leave, and the role of Medicaid. Partners expand the campaign’s reach by promoting campaign activities with their networks and participating in our advocacy activities. Partners also help to engage trusted voices, from pediatricians to parents to business leaders, to share the campaign’s message about making babies’ potential a national priority.
SL: The Help Me Grow model has been implemented in 28 states and over 90 communities. In what ways do you see Help Me Grow and the Think Babies™ Campaign aligning over the course of the campaign?
ED: We see Help Me Grow and Think Babies as very closely aligned in our goals to increase access to comprehensive supports for families and ultimately to ensure that all young children can reach their potential. In the six states where Think Babies campaigns and Help Me Grow efforts are active – Georgia, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Washington – there may be opportunities for closer coordination between Think Babies and Help Me Grow on specific state policy goals. In particular, some campaigns have prioritized efforts to expand access to child and family screenings, supports, and connections to needed services.
At the national level, we hope that you will participate in Think Babies advocacy activities and we would be thrilled to elevate Help Me Grow’s perspectives on key policy issues. We also hope that we can be a resource to you, as you consider policy and advocacy strategies to support families with young children.
SL: What are some ways HMG Affiliates and their partners can get involved and be active in the Think Babies™ Campaign?
ED: As a first step, we encourage you to sign up to receive regular campaign updates and to engage in the campaign’s advocacy opportunities. You can also access the online Think Babies™ Toolkit for ideas on how to share the campaign’s core messages in your state or community, whether through social media, blog posts, letters to the editor, or in-person meetings with elected officials. Finally, HMG affiliates in states with Think Babies campaigns can reach out to our state partners to learn more about how to get involved in Think Babies advocacy activities in these states.