If we don’t speak up for our youngest children their development will be compromised

If we don’t speak up for our youngest children their development will be compromised
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In 2010, James (a pseudonym) was one of the first children served through our newly opened Early Head Start (EHS) program. His foster mom was referred to us and was looking for quality care for James, who was a preemie and traumatically removed from his mother at birth. Marie, one of our EHS family child care providers, welcomed James into her program and, like she did with all of her child care children, loved and treated James like her own.

When James arrived he had no language, came with a huge medical file, and was a little less than four months old. We noticed his developmental and sensory delays immediately. Marie wasn’t daunted. She soothed, hugged, and loved James. She read to him, played tummy time, and sang to him. She was responsive and caring during routines and in every interaction.  

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She snuggled, cooed, and replied to his cues, connecting and building a secure relationship he needed to be able to grow and develop into a healthy child and adult. She supported his social, emotional and cognitive development, tailoring her caregiving as he grew. Year after year, Marie was there for James and his foster mom too, supporting mom to support and love him.

 

As co-founder and chief learning officer of All Our Kin, a nationally recognized nonprofit organization that creates quality child care options for low-income families, I have had the honor to work with and learn from children and educators like James and Marie for almost twenty years. I have seen, first hand, the impact of high quality early childhood care and education for children, families and society — time and time again.

Three weeks ago, Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayDemocrats turn on Al Franken VA slashes program that helps homeless veterans obtain housing: report The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (D-Wash.) shared her bold vision for what a nation committed to all young children could look like by introducing The Child Care for Working Families Act. Supported by 27 senators and endorsed by over 100 organizations serving children and families, The Child Care for Working Families Act addresses the massive child care crisis in our nation head on.

Unlike James, many children do not spend their days in quality early learning programs leaving them without the high quality early care and education that they need and deserve. Why? Quality child care is hard to find and even harder if you’re working poor or poor.

According to Child Care Aware’s Parents and the High Cost of Child Care report only one in six children who qualify for child care subsidies actually receive them. And the care that does exist is enormously expensive and utterly unaffordable, with families spending more on childcare than they do on housing, college tuition, transportation, or food.

Parents end up making stark, unfair choices between their child’s health and wellbeing and their family’s economic self-sufficiency. These are choices no parents should have to make. The Child Care for Working Families Act proposes to make these non-choices a predicament of the past by increasing the number of children eligible for child care subsidies, and making high quality preschool accessible to all low- and moderate-income 3 and 4 year olds. 

The Act supports low-income families by guaranteeing no family earning below 150 percent of their state’s medium income would spend more than 7 percent on child care.  

The Child Care for Working Families Act also focuses on child care teachers by increasing compensation and training for the mostly female workforce who care and teach young children for meager wages and little to no respect.

This welcome news has been a long time coming. The science of high quality early childhood education is clear: early relationships and experiences, positive or negative, shape a young child’s brain and lay the essential foundation for the rest of a child’s life. These earliest experiences matter. In the last decade, we’ve learned more and more about brain development and the critical architecture that is built, like a house from the ground up, and shaped in the first three years.

A child’s understanding of the world, her ability to plan and problem solve, her motivation and self-control, her vocabulary and communication, are all built in the earliest years. These universal social, emotional, cognitive and communication milestones are the foundations upon which later development is built. Dr. James Heckman, Nobel Prize winning economist, writes that “skills beget skills.”

Investing in early childhood education benefits children, families, and significantly benefits society as well. Leading economists have shown, in multiple longitudinal studies, that early childhood education is an excellent investment for society at large.

These studies found that every dollar invested in quality early childhood education benefited children into adulthood and saved society $6-$7 in future welfare, health care, special education, and incarceration costs. The equation is simple: quality early education, especially for vulnerable children and families, is worth the cost, and pays off with educated, engaged, employed adults. Getting early education right today saves all of us later.

The Child Care for Working Families Act also proposes to increase funding to Head Start which currently serves more than one million children every year. Notre Dame and Texas A&M researchers found that Head Start’s impact lasts for generations. The study found that Head Start children’s children even do better, “interrupting” the effects of poverty. This exciting research, the first of its kind, reinforces what our Early Head Start team at All Our Kin and our family child care providers have known for years: early care and education and Head Start impact families for generations and generations.

Take Marie: a married mother of four, a successful entrepreneur running a quality child care business that serves children and families in her own community; and she, herself, a foster child and Head Start baby.

The Child Care for Working Families Act couldn’t have come at a more urgent time. With more than 6.0 million children (1 in 12) living in extreme poverty and the demand for quality early care and education far exceeding the supply.

If we don’t act and speak up for our youngest children, like James, their development will be compromised, the foundation cracked, and we all suffer as inequality grows and grows. Educational disparities that show up in later years do not begin when children enter kindergarten, they start when parents do not have access to safe, affordable, quality child care.

The Child Care for Working Families Act is a bold recognition that all children deserve the best start and that we all benefit and prosper when children receive the early care and education foundation they need and deserve. Please join me in demanding quality early education for all our nation’s children. 

Janna Wagner is co-founder and chief learning officer at All Our Kin. She is a lecturer in Education Studies at Yale University and a Public Voices Fellow at Yale. She is also a Pahara-Aspen Education Fellow.