Georgia’s “Talk With Me Baby” Program Aims to Improve Low-Income Toddlers’ Verbal and Reading Skills

March 25, 2016|2:23 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

Studies show that a toddler’s vocabulary may predict his or her third grade reading ability, which may in turn predict future academic and economic success: children who aren’t reading proficiently by the end of third grade are four times less likely than their peers to graduate high school on time. In 2013, after finding that only 34 percent of the state’s fourth graders were reading at or above grade level, Georgia began the Talk With Me Baby initiative. The program encourages parents and caregivers to talk to, read to, and sing to their infants and toddlers in order to increase their quality and quantity of language exposure, particularly among low-income infants and children accessing WIC.

Talk With Me Baby places an emphasis on reinforcing home languages for families who speak a language other than English. Key partners include the Georgia Department of Public Health (GADPH), the Atlanta Speech School, Emory University’s School of Nursing and Department of Pediatrics, the Marcus Autism Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and the Get Georgia Reading Campaign for Grade Level Reading. The program’s successes and larger public health implications were highlighted in an article in The Atlantic, and GADPH Commissioner Brenda Fitzgerald discussed the initiative during a presentation at TEDxAtlanta.

To get Talk With Me Baby started, GADPH first held trainings for WIC nutritionists and staff and designed a baseline language scale assessment for mothers and babies who received WIC services. Next, GADPH began to show a Talk With Me Baby informational video in all of its WIC clinic waiting areas to raise awareness of both the program and the importance of talking to babies and children to encourage brain development. During WIC nutrition education visits, public health staff also began distributing materials related to the program, including messaging and books. Finally, GADPH created a network of 100 champions who promote the program across the state.

Results show positive message penetration in the community: more than one-third of WIC clients have seen the Talk With Me Baby instructional video, approximately 80 percent of clients received counseling on the importance of language from WIC staff, and 88 percent of clients report seeing the Talk With Me Baby informational posters. GADPH has created a staff position to oversee all early brain development efforts to help further behavior change and improve awareness as the initiative continues. Future plans include training OB-GYN, labor and delivery, neonatal, and pediatric nurses in the Talk With Me Baby concepts, possibly incorporating the curriculum into medical residency training, and developing multidisciplinary brain development research centers.

Learn more about how Georgia is increasing early language development among infants and children receiving WIC services by reading the full story from ASTHO's "Have You Shared" story collection, and check out ASTHO’s Maternal and Child Health web page for additional information about state-led child development initiatives.