New report assesses health of the Adirondacks’ youngest residents

Photo: KellyELambertPhotography / Flickr

80% of a child’s brain develops in the first one thousand days of life. What happens in those first three years can have profound impacts on a child’s health and educational outcomes.

That’s why the Adirondack Foundation’s Birth To Three Alliance has built a coalition of agencies and providers to work together on early childhood issues. The alliance works in Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton and Warren counties, as well as in Akwesasne.

The Birth To Three Alliance recently released a report, “The Wellbeing of Infants and Toddlers in the Adirondacks”, on the overall health and well-being of young children in the Adirondacks. Child care and immunizations top the list of issues of concern.

Kate Ryan of the Adirondack Birth To Three Alliance on their early childhood report

Director Kate Ryan spoke with David Sommerstein about the report. Their conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

KATE RYAN: We’re really looking at three areas: building strong families, healthy children, and access to high-quality early learning. So we look at daycare rates. We look at parent training. So we’re really looking at all of the services that are available to our families.

DAVID SOMMERSTEIN: How do the Adirondacks stack up as a region in those measures that you mentioned?

RYAN: Well, we definitely have our strengths and our weaknesses. Most of our communities, with the exception of some places that are higher in population, are struggling to keep childcare providers, and that’s really impacting family functioning, the overall ability for families to enter the workforce. We’re considered a [child care] desert in our counties, and we’re working to advocate and improve those conditions.

But there are things that we’re doing really great at. I was actually interested to see that almost 90% of our children from birth to three are getting into their well-child pediatric visits, which is just the perfect opportunity and place for them to be screened for developmental disabilities or delays and to be referred for other programming in our counties.

SOMMERSTEIN: An interesting one that I saw in the report was that babies and toddlers in the Adirondacks lag behind in immunization rates. Why do we think that is?

RYAN: The data report is just strictly that, it’s just kind of looking at the numbers. The good news is that Birth to Three Alliance does have access and communicates and works with the local medical providers, and so that’s one of the things that I think would be worth investigating.

It was interesting to me as well, because we can see that almost 90% of children are getting into their well-child visits, and that would be typically where they would receive the immunizations. But that stat is also interesting because it does vary between counties.

SOMMERSTEIN: Right, it varies greatly from 45% to 95%. So there’s a big gap there. When you see something like that, what is the actionable step that the Alliance would want to take or help other people take?

Graphic from the Adirondack Birth To Three Alliance's latest report on early childhood well-being in the Adirondacks.

Graphic from the Adirondack Birth To Three Alliance’s latest report on early childhood well-being in the Adirondacks.

RYAN: Well, we do have relationships with health departments and also pediatric offices. So as long as it was identified, we could probably delve a little deeper. But that’s one of those data points that are tricky because there might not be documentation of why maybe families are possibly turning down immunizations, or if those reduced immunizations are directly associated with people who aren’t getting into their well-child visits.

SOMMERSTEIN: What stood out for you when you looked at the results of this report. What surprised you?

RYAN: One of the things that struck me was, we have these wonderful resources in our community, such as the Child Care Coordinating Council of the North Country in Plattsburgh, and ACAP in Essex County, and they’re these wonderful resources, especially for our rural families, to be able to connect with one another, sharing experiences of parenting, access to training, and a variety of resources. And really our rates of families that are utilizing them are much lower than I anticipated.

SOMMERSTEIN: What does that then tell you?

RYAN: I think it could be hypothesized that there are some barriers to families utilizing those centers. Could it be transportation, because we do have rural areas, and to travel to those locations might be a challenge? Maybe misinformation or not knowing about them? So I think definitely, and that’s what’s great about our membership for the Alliance, too, we have daycare providers, we have people on the ground level, working with these families who are able to share information and resources. So I think that’s where we can go with that number.

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