On Tuesday, May 12, Mathews Center staff moderated an Alabama Issues Forum on Minding Our Future: Investing in Healthy Infants and Toddlers in Florence, Alabama. Service providers, educators, and community members gathered at the Lauderdale County Extension Office to deliberate through three unique approaches to investing in healthy infants and toddlers.

Melanie Allen, Family and Child Development Agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, opened the forum with a word of welcome and introduction. Forum participants then viewed a brief video on investing in healthy futures for infants and toddlers from Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child, discussed themes from an essay on early childhood development by Dr. Ellen Abell of Auburn University, and perused county data sheets on child wellbeing from the KIDS Count Report and VOICES for Alabama’s Children. Personal concerns and stories emerged as forum participants reflected on the information and data.

The group transitioned to talking through what can be done to improve child wellbeing during deliberation on three approaches to taking action: “Develop Capable and Caring Parents, Guardians, and Caregivers;” “Create Healthy and Thriving Communities;” and “Provide Access to High Quality Services for All Children.” Throughout deliberation, participants emphasized equipping and supporting parents to provide safe, loving, healthy environments for their children.

To ensure healthy futures for all children, our communities must work together to equip and support parents, put forth the group. Action ideas included: establishing more parenting classes and mentorship programs, distributing educational materials through OBGYN and Pediatrician offices, and encouraging employers to institute workplace policies and programs that support parents. The group also advocated equipping young people with knowledge and skills for caring for infants and toddlers through parenting video games. Forum participants acknowledged that simply providing support and services to parents does not necessarily instill a sense of responsibility, care, and motivation. To address that challenge, forum participants suggested creating billboards, social media campaigns, and PSAs that communicate the vital role a parent plays in their child’s life.

The Mathews Center thanks Melanie Allen and the Lauderdale County Children’s Policy Council for convening the engaging forum, the Lauderdale County Cooperative Extension Office for hosting, and the Lauderdale County citizens who dedicated their lunch hour to thoughtfully share their perspectives and ideas.

If you are interested in convening a “Minding Our Future” forum in your community, please contact DMC Acting Executive Director Cristin Foster at cfoster@mathewscenter.org.

— Cristin Foster (DMC Acting Executive Director)

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