How does racism impact the development of infants and toddlers?

It’s Real World Wednesday! And this week we are featuring Daseta Gray!Daseta RWW

Daseta is a certified Infant Toddler Specialist who has been in the field of early childhood education for almost two decades. She migrated from Jamaica to the United States in 1981 and did several odd jobs while attending school for her GED. She now holds an A.A.S from Bronx Community College, a B.A in Psychology from Lehman College, a M.A from City College, and she is working on her PhD. Daseta shares information with parents and caregivers on her blog (, has her own consulting company, and provides staff development. With her daughter, Reeshemah Brightley, she started the First 2000 Days NY campaign in 2012 and also facilitates Baby & Wee™ sessions for parents and their infants/toddlers.

Daseta also co-facilitates Central and West Harlem’s New York Zero-to-Three Infancy Leadership Circle which is actively studying the ways racism affects young children and strategies to eliminate inequities. Given her expertise, we want to ask her: How does racism impact the development of infants and toddlers?

Here’s what she had to say:

Racism impacts the development of infants and toddlers in a number of ways. It actually begins in the doctor’s office through the unequal information that is given. A good example of this is a personal experience: my daughter took my grandson (2 years old) to the dentist at 23rd street [a more affluent, majority-white community] and he was given an age appropriate book. Another day he was given a book in my community, by the same organization, but it was inappropriate for his age.

When mothers are pregnant they are not given information about brain development and as a result when they have their baby they are not able to help them along the developmental lines.

The businesses in under-served communities do not sell books that are appropriate for infants/toddlers and the libraries do not have a section just for infants/toddlers with age appropriate books. You cannot find enough quality toys in our community. Many times we say those mothers are terrible at parenting, they do not care about their kids…but is anyone taking the time to teach them? (Pizarro, 2010). That is the real question.

How does that look? 

You can see this disparity showing up in a number of areas in this young child’s life that may take them on the journey to the cradle to prison pipeline. This disparity begins when the family is pregnant and they are not given information about brain development although the research clearly shows that the experiences that are given to children during the 0-3 years will determine how the architecture of their brain will be wired (Lally, 2013).

These disparities show up in the amount of referrals for speech, occupational therapy, attention deficit disorder, infant/toddler mental health in the underserved communities. This shows up in the high number of calls to ACS from certain zip codes. This shows up in the high rate of three year olds that are being suspended from pre-schools (Strasser, 2014). This shows up in the amount of three year olds that are placed on Ritalin (Dell’Antonia, 2014).

This shows up in the amount of children of color that are taken from families a by the Child Protection Agency and usually placed in a foster home with a family that is not trained in infant /toddler care. The system dismantles many families, but minority children are ten times more likely to be taken from their families (Roberts, 2002).

“It’s well-known that foster children lag behind in just about every indicator of health and well-being, said Fisher, who has acted as a principal investigator on several studies of foster children. But the neurological basis for the problems has only become known in the last decade.” Racism shows up in too many places and spaces it will take and major mid shift in the community to change this behavior (Shonkoff, J. & Fisher, P. A., n.d.)

This shows up in child childcare programs with staff who are not knowledgeable about infant/toddler development and in so doing does not give the infant/toddler the skills that he/she needs to be successful in kindergarten the research shows that 60% of these children lacks the social, emotional and cognitive school readiness skills when they get to kindergarten.

Is there anything you want to change?

There are many things that I would like to change and I will list a few:

  • I would like to see all pregnant families be given classes on brain development based on the current re-search on brain development
  • I would like businesses to understand that they need to invest in the infants/toddlers in underserved communities because these infants/toddlers grow up to become tomorrow’s customers
  • The faith based community should play a more active role in educating themselves and their members about the importance of those first three years
  • I would have an infant/toddler space in all housing projects and have appropriate toys and a library with a parent coach. During pregnancy classes on brain development will be offered in that space and attendance will be mandatory
  • I would like to see everyone who are touching the lives of infants and toddlers join the First 2000 Days campaign New York
  • The provider mothers and daycare teachers and Directors would be trained on brain development during the first three years
  • I would also improve the teacher preparation course in the colleges by adding an infant/toddler curriculum. According to Diem & Carpenter (2012), “the preparation of today’s school leaders must include a purposeful focus on building the critical dialogical skills necessary to facilitate anti-racist conversations, which includes carefully examining issues/concepts pertaining to color-blind ideology misconceptions of human differences, critical-self reflection and the interrogation of race-related silences in the classroom.”

You may be asking, “How will I benefit from investing in the first 3 years and why these first 200 days are important?” Think about it when a child gets to kindergarten and they are able to communicate their needs, they are able to self-regulate, they are able to co-operate, they feel competent, they have self-esteem, they have empathy, they have a positive approach to learning and they are able to do active listening they will be successful. These children will grow to become positive contributors to their communities. Tax dollars will be saved on many special needs programs because there will be a reduction in the need.

There will also be a reduction in anti-social behaviors, and crime will be reduced. Communities will be healthier. Investing in pregnant families and infants/toddlers is community development (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2007).

Thanks, Daseta, for sharing your expertise with us!  A PDF of her reflections can be found here.


Dell’Antonia, K. J. (2014). The new inequality for toddlers: Less income; more Ritalin. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Lally, J. R. (2013). For our babies. San Francisco, CA: West Ed.

Strasser, A. (2014). Black preschoolers face an epidemic of suspensions. Think Progress. Retrieved from preschooler-suspension/

Roberts, D. (2002). Race and class in the child welfare system. PBS Frontline. Retrieved from

Jones Harden, B. (n.d.). Young children in child welfare: Developmentally-sensitive and scientifically-informed practice [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from – !prettyPhoto[gallery2]/13/

National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. (2007). The science of early child development: Closing the gap between what we know and what we do. Retrieved from


Leadership Opportunity

Thank you for being a member of the Interest Forum for Diversity and Equity Education for Adults Interest Forum.  Your membership in the Interest Forum gives us insight to your passion for early childhood education. We are currently recruiting for three Interest Forum facilitators and hope you will consider this as a great opportunity to lend your member voice to this forum.

Without facilitators, the Diversity and Equity Education for Adults community will no longer be able to continue as a component of NAEYC’s Interest Forums. Want to learn more about the role of being an Interest Forum Facilitator? You can click here for more information, and contact Sahrah Zarei at by February 27, 2015.


Gwen, Erica and Sahrah

NAEYC Affiliate and Member Relations

Supporting Dual Language Learners in Early Education Settings

Diana RWWHappy Real World Wednesday! This week we have the pleasure of featuring Diana Serrano.

Diana is a third year PhD student at the Heller School of Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. Her research interests vary, but she is most interested in the developmental outcomes of children of immigrants in early education care settings. Most recently, Diana worked at the Children’s Trust. During her time at the Children’s Trust Diana worked to construct a measurement tool that assesses parental capacity. Her previous work at the Office of the Superintendent of Education (OSSE) in Washington, DC focused on the educational outcomes of English language learners in special education. While she worked at the Migration Policy Institute, Diana’s research focused on early education access as a strategy to civically, socially, and economically integrate immigrant families and children. Diana hopes to continue to expand her understanding of developmental trajectories for young children of immigrants who participate in home visiting programs.

Given her expertise, we asked Diana: What are some things that early childhood educators can do to support dual language learners and their families?  

Here’s what she said:

I have spent some time thinking about the most practical ways that early childhood educators can best support dual language learners and their families.

While the process of identifying a child as an English language learner might vary from school district to school district, once a child is a identified as an English language learner, the child is entitled to certain rights and accommodations. Perhaps one of the most helpful things an educator can do, is help parents understand, not only the importance of going through the formal identification process, but also to understand what their rights are. All too often parents are unaware of the rights their child is entitled to and this makes it challenging for a parent to serve as the best possible advocate for her/his child.

An early childhood educator is beautifully positioned to serve as an educator for the parent, but more importantly for the child. At the national level, the topic of educational approaches for English language learners has been politicized. Unfortunately, there exist many discrepancies between what some policies mandate and what science tells us. While there are English only policies in place in most states in the country, we know that children who come from a non-English home are better positioned to fulfill their potential when they are part of an environment that values and celebrates their home language and cultural practices. While it is difficult to cater to the needs of every individual child (given the diversity of language backgrounds), the notion that learning English should come at the expense of speaking to a child in their native tongue is simply negated by the scientific evidence.

Educators might be unable to speak the language of their students; however, this need not mean that the child should be discouraged from expressing her or himself in the preferred language. Educational approaches vary greatly, but it is important to note that approaches that provide educational opportunities for children in their native language positively impact the socio-emotional and cognitive development of the child.

Thanks so much Diana for taking the time to share your knowledge with us!

The Consciousness Gap in Education: An Equity Imperative

Check out this inspiring TED Talk from Prof. Dorinda Carter Andrews.

In this talk, Dorinda Carter Andrews challenges us to consider how gaps in critical consciousness and mindsets for adults and students in schools prevent us from providing equitable schooling experiences for all students. Specifically, Carter Andrews urges educators to consider how increased critical consciousness about the role of race and culture in teaching and learning can be fostered through educator professional development and student curriculum and can ultimately strengthen teacher-student relationships. A shifted focus on closing consciousness gaps can address the equity imperative embedded in the larger discourse about achievement gaps.

On February 11, Dorinda received the MSU 2014 Outreach Scholarship Community Partner Award for her collaboration with school districts to close achievement gaps. Further, on March 1, she received the Alumni of Color Achievement Award at the 2014 Alumni of Color Conference at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Dorinda Carter Andrews is an associate professor in the Department of Teacher Education at Michigan State University where she teaches courses on racial identity development, urban education, critical multiculturalism, and critical race theory. Dr. Carter Andrews is a Core Faculty member in the African American and African Studies program and a Faculty Leader in the Urban Educators Cohort Program, a program designed to prepare MSU pre-service students for teaching careers in urban contexts.

Discipline and Social Justice with Pippi Kessler

PippiIt’s Real World Wednesday, and this week we get to learn from consultant and speaker Pippi Kessler!!!!

Pippi has trained thousands of educators and parents across the country to use their power for good. As Education Director at ImmerseNYC and as an ongoing consultant and former Program Director at Ma’yan, she designs feminist leadership programs for teens and creates innovative curricula and workshops. She is also the Director of Rowe Young People’s Camp, a summer program for 8-11-year-olds in western Massachusetts. She is currently completing her Masters Degree in Social-Organizational Psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University and is an educator for Jews for Racial and Economic Justice.

One of her workshops is called “Ethical Discipline.” You can read more about it here:…/4_tips_for_how_to_make_better_rules_for_…

We asked asked Pippi to tell us more about what she sees as the connection between discipline and social justice?  Here’s what she said:

Hi, everyone! I first started thinking about the connection when I started trying to write trainings for Rowe Young People’s Camp, which is a program that combines leadership training for the teen and young adult staff with a camp for children and which I’ve written about in more detail here (…/not-soccer-camp-the-outlandish…). Something I tell the staff at the start of every summer that I believe that working with kids is the closest you can come to taking part in a psychological experiment about how you respond when you are in a position of power over another person. The power adults have over children mirrors other forms of oppression, but there are some key differences that sometimes make it easier for people to engage with the concept of power differentials in new ways. One important feature of adult power is that every adult has been a child. Each of us has a part of ourselves that has seen and felt the stress of childhood, the juxtaposition of our full humanness and the complexity of our childhood inner lives paired with a lack of control over our bodies and circumstances. We have the opportunity to see the cycles of how we ourselves have been socialized into oppression in childhood and the choices we then make when we are given structural power over others. And behavior modification with children is intersectional because childhood is intersectional – childhood is racialized and gendered and classed. Through interacting with children, we reveal what we believe is true about the world and how safe or dangerous we believe it is to be a person.

Discipline raises questions about power that resonate with so many other themes of oppression and liberation. When we have structural power over children, how do we live in that role? What do we believe about authority, autonomy, control, violence, love, humanity? What do we believe about what it means to be close to someone, to care for someone, to support someone, to raise someone, to lead someone? I think asking these questions through the very practical and concrete lens of “How do I manage taking a group of children to the park?” can make it safe to ask big questions.

And I think that learning respectful ways to interact with children is a way to practice building a different world. I want a world where children feel respected and heard, where they know that their needs are taken seriously, and where they trust that the adults around them are laboring to be real with themselves and one another about power, safety, danger, and human needs. Adult-child relationships can teach children their first lessons about hierarchical power dynamics or their first lessons about respect.

Thank you, Pippi!