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


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