Report: Florida needs to improve services for babies

According to the advocacy group First 1,000 Days Florida, making sure a child's needs are met during the first three years of their life "significantly improves their health, increases their chances of success, avoids a host of expensive societal problems, and makes Florida stronger."

However, Florida is among the bottom 25% when it comes to providing services for babies and toddlers, according to Zero to Three's State of Babies Yearbook Report, which compiled data from national data sets including the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and the National Survey of Children’s Health.

A Sarasota-based organization is working to address the needs of Bay Area children and their families.

The director of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, Beth Duda explained, "The numbers indicate to us that we're not addressing some of the core issues in the most effective way and those core issues include poverty." 

Duda's organization is focused on things like a child's readiness for school and making sure families have what they need to be successful once they are in school.

A tool being used by some parents is a free app called Vroom. It gives tips on turning everyday moments into brain-building lessons for children. For example, a car trip can turn into a learning opportunity.

"Making sure that, as you're driving somewhere, you're kind of narrating and saying, What you're doing?" said Duda. 

She says reading to and with children, often and early on, is also crucial.

"Babies' brains are developing faster between zero and three than at any later point in life," said Myra Jones-Taylor, the chief policy officer with Zero to Three.

"Our lowest-income children hear 30 million [fewer] words than our moderate and higher-income families, so our parents can do a lot to close that gap," said Duda.

If they don't, Duda warns, it could affect them later in life.

"More children dropping out of high school, more individuals not being career or college-ready," she explained.