With science demonstrating the importance of language nutrition on early brain development, the Talk With Me Baby lead partner organizations began coming together in mid-2013 to explore strategies for addressing what they viewed as a public health crisis – that the majority of Georgia’s children were not receiving language-rich adult-child interactions during their infancy and, as a result, these children were failing to meet critical milestones of educational and lifelong success. That year, just over one-third of Georgia’s third graders were proficient readers and the state’s graduation rate was 72 percent. Without a high school diploma, these youth would be more likely to struggle to support themselves and to have poor health outcomes.
The science was clear about what babies need – language nutrition – but a question remained: how to ensure that every child receives language nutrition.
The Georgia Department of Public Health, led by Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, began collaborating with the Marcus Autism Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, one of the nation’s leading experts in language acquisition; the Atlanta Speech School’s Rollins Center for Language and Literacy, the nation’s most comprehensive center for language and literacy development; Emory University’s School of Nursing and Department of Pediatrics; the Georgia Department of Education; and Get Georgia Reading – Georgia’s Campaign for Grade Level Reading.
Drawing on public and private investments, this cross-sector coalition is beginning with a focus on two large-scale workforces of trusted professionals that already serve most parents and babies – nurses and WIC nutritionists who see 99 and 50 percent of all new and expectant parents in Georgia, respectively. By integrating language nutrition coaching as a core competency in these two workforces, Talk With Me Baby is transforming parents and caregivers into conversational partners with their infants to provide the early language exposure that will support critical brain development paving the way for reading proficiency by the end of third grade, high school graduation, and a successful and healthy life.