Simmons: Mental health scientists offer hope after sobering report on state's infants and toddlers


Data is being collected to support the theory that where a child grows up can have a large impact on the developing brain. Friday at the Stillwater Public Library, childhood development experts weighed in on the 2019 State of Babies report ( that graded each state, and showed a lot of room to grow for Oklahoma’s rural communities.

Room to grow was a euphemism the program used to mean that things could be a lot better for infants and toddlers in Oklahoma.

Resilient Payne County hosted the Community Resilience Next Steps Seminar, with a goal of bringing people together for a solutions-based approach to reducing and overcoming childhood trauma. RPC’s stated mission is to “empower sensitive communities through regional awareness and support to reduce the number of adverse childhood experiences, or ACES, while increasing resiliency skills.” Supporting children in infancy and their parents is a critical step.

“The goal of this report was to understand that babies are born with this unlimited potential in the first five years, especially the first three years when most of our brain development happens and that is a key time we want to set babies up for success,” said Oklahoma State psychology assistant professor Lucia Ciciolla. “They don’t develop in isolation, babies always come with somebody else that takes care of them. As long as that person is not doing that well, then babies are not on the most successful path. Unfortunately, who you’re born to and what state you’re born in there is a lot of variability and outcomes. What state you are raised in determines your educational attainment, your financial attainment, your health outcomes, which seems like an idea totally contrary to what we think about as the American dream, that people can make life happen for themselves. The reality is that where a baby is born – the neighborhood, the family, the state – determines a lot. We can all think of exceptions to that rule, but when we think of the health of a community, we think about the person that is most vulnerable. We are only as healthy and strong as our most vulnerable person.”

The State of Babies’ data showed 51.9 percent Oklahoma’s 157,083 infants and toddlers living in households above low-income (55.4 national average) and about 25 percent living in poverty compared to the national average of 22.7 percent. The state also had higher levels of uninsured low-income infants/toddlers at 7.2 percent (Ntl. Avg. 5.8). Among measurements of family dynamics, Oklahoma had an infant/toddler maltreatment rate of 29.4 percent (Ntl. Avg. 16.0) and a 31.9 percent average for an adverse childhood experience (Ntl. Avg. 21.9).

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