The NCSL Blog


By Alison May

Scientific research has taught us that babies develop a million new neural connections every second during their first years, more than at any other time in life.

Early experiences during these first few years build a foundation for future development and impact children’s life-long trajectory. Nurturing, stimulating and secure environments provided by adults help build a strong foundation for life. Positive early experiences increase the likelihood of children being healthy, school-ready and able to self-regulate their behavior.

On the other hand, negative experiences early in life, such as chronic stress, neglect and other forms of maltreatment, often lead to long-term physical and mental health challenges such as high blood pressure, obesity and substance misuse disorders.

As a result, policymakers across the country are beginning to legislate new ways to support healthy births, newborns, infants and toddlers. Prenatal screenings, maternal health and voluntary home visiting programs are just a few examples of how public policy can support babies and their families.

A new resource is available for legislators and legislative staff that highlights state policies and strategies that have a strong evidence base for promoting healthy beginnings, strengthening families and ensuring children are in high-quality care environments.

The 2021 Prenatal-to-3 State Policy Roadmap, produced by the Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center, is a comprehensive resource to deepen your knowledge of how public policy can support this critical period of child development. Researchers at the Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center conducted comprehensive, systematic reviews of the existing causal evidence. They identified the following 11 evidence-based policies and strategies states can implement to empower parents and foster environments in which young children can thrive.


According to Cynthia Osborne, Ph.D., director of the Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center and associate dean of the LBJ School of Public Affairs, "The 2021 Prenatal-to-3 State Policy Roadmap shows that few states are doing all they can, but some moved forward despite the historic challenges of the last year.

“The pandemic exposed the complex social, economic and health needs of families with young children. Parents continue to struggle to maintain employment and care for their little ones. What we do know is that no one institution can do it all. It takes a system of care to ensure healthy children are born to healthy parents and that parents have the skills, resources and institutional supports they need to work and care for their children.”

NCSL’s policy experts hope this second annual Prenatal-to-3 State Policy Roadmap will be a valuable resource as you work to support the developmental needs of young children and their families. What are you waiting for? Dig into the data and find information specific to your state and how it stacks up against other states.

Additional Resources

Alison May is a policy associate in NCSL's Children and Families Program.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.