Children's Defense Fund

Early Childhood News: September Edition


Child Care—A Mountain All Parents Must Climb

Most families with children, regardless of income, size or location, at some point grapple with the same inevitable issue—child care. Whether a family chooses to enroll in a child care center or family home care, enlists help from a relative or neighbor, employs a full time nanny or part-time baby sitter or chooses to stay at home, making this decision and finding quality care is often a major parenting challenge. In addition to deciding the best arrangement for their children, families often must deal with the chronic issues in the child care industry: poor quality, low wages for workers, high turnover, inexperienced providers, the patchwork of state and federal regulations and so forth. Securing affordable, quality child care is no easy feat in the United States. Fortunately there is a bevy of research and ample resources that parents can use as they maneuver through the maze of child care.

For many families, particularly those who live at, below or just above the poverty level, affording child care is the biggest hurdle to overcome. According to the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies (NACCRRA) the annual average cost of center-based child care in the United States for an infant is $11,666, but prices range from $4,650 (Mississippi) to $18,200 (Washington, D.C.) a year. The 2011 federal poverty level for a family of four in the mainland United States is $22,350, and regardless of where a family lives child care is a significant portion of your income if you are in a poor family.

Unfortunately because of budget constraints at the federal and state level many families today are at risk of losing the child care assistance that helps maintain their financial stability and ensure the well-being of their children. The National Women’s Law Center reports that in 2010 most states were able to maintain their child care assistance programs, largely thanks to federal Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) funding for 2009 and 2010 from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). But with only a portion of these ARRA funds being continued and with persistent state budget gaps, many states are scaling back child care assistance for families. Click here for a complete look at state child care cuts across the country.

Poor families are not alone: the woes of affording child care have a significant impact on middle income families as well. Where poor families are eligible for government subsidies, child care programs and preschool, often middle class families don’t meet the income eligibility requirements. The White House Middle Class Taskforce reports that the cost of child care has grown twice as fast as the median income of families with children since 2000. With child care for four-year-olds costing more than annual in state tuition at public colleges in 33 states and Washington, D.C., it’s no wonder that middle class families are feeling the pinch.

Most discussions about child care involve a conversation about quality—or the lack thereof. The quality of care given by many providers is often mediocre and at worse can threaten the health and safety of children. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development has found that low-quality care in the first few years of life can have a small but long-lasting impact on a child's learning and behavior well into adolescence. Evidence suggests that the quality of care provided to a child in his or her early years can be critical to the child’s development. Early childhood experiences, particularly in the first three years of life, are crucial to brain development, which is heavily impacted by early environmental factors. A healthy and safe early childhood setting can prevent cognitive and behavioral disorders later in life, some of which are irreversible.

So what’s a parent to do as they climb the mountain of child care? Fortunately, NACCRRA has released a comprehensive booklet that helps parents decide the right place for their child based on quality indicators. Within the booklet is a checklist of 38 questions that could be asked to evaluate child care programs. Unlike most guidelines for selecting child care, this booklet explains why each question is important and how it relates to the quality of care. All of the questions are based on research about what is important to a child’s health, safety, and development. Check it out here. Also, take a look at Child Care in America: 2011 State Fact Sheets, they provide information about key indicators that describe child care nationally and in individual states.

The State of the States on Full-Day Kindergarten

As school starts across the country, more children in one Virginia community are attending full-day kindergarten (FDK) than did in 2010. As the article explains, one local school district in Virginia is beginning to offer more full-day classes. But the situation in New Jersey reflects just the opposite: children enrolling in kindergarten this year in Swedesboro-Woolwich School District are only getting one half of the instruction the Class of 2010 received due to a reduction in full-day to half-day kindergarten. Across the country much attention is being paid to students’ meeting the Common Core Standards, yet it seems the obvious is being overlooked in some states; if school hours are not the same for all grades, how can children be expected to learn and master skills at the same rate?

As part of CDF’s plan to continue to focus on this serious misstep in our educational system, CDF has added two new videos to our thought leader section on our early childhood Web site. Listening to various FDK experts clarifies how much children are missing if kindergarten is not considered the first grade in their schooling experience. It is not enough to talk about extending the day without a discussion around the quality of the instructional day and the training of highly qualified teachers. We will focus on both in greater detail in the months ahead.

Early Childhood in the States

New Mexico—The New Mexico PreK Evaluation: Impacts From the Fourth Year (2008-2009) of New Mexico’s State-Funded PreK Program

During the 2005-2006 school year, New Mexico began serving four-year-olds who lived in Title 1 school districts in a targeted statewide pre-kindergarten initiative. Unlike other studies of state pre-K programs that usually wait to began evaluation for a year or two, the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) began studying the New Mexico PreK initiative in its first year of operation and continued to do so until 2010. The statewide initiative offered voluntary prekindergarten to four-year-olds in public schools and private providers such as Head Start, municipal and community child care facilities, faith-based centers, universities, and family child care homes with a focus on standards, workforce and screenings. During the study period, the initiative expanded quickly and served upwards of 5,000 children within the five years. The New Mexico Pre-K evaluation report highlights results from the fourth year of the study and finds that the program is helping prepare young children of the state for kindergarten and later school success. Specifically, the multi-year study concluded that children who attended the program gained important skills in areas such as addition and subtraction, telling time, knowledge of letters, and familiarity with words and book concepts. The researchers found that the vocabulary assessment is predictive of reading success and general cognitive abilities later on. Read the complete evaluation report here.

Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Missouri, North Carolina, California—Pre-K as a School Turnaround Strategy

As more state and local school systems recognize the strong, growing evidence of pre-kindergarten as an effective strategy in closing the achievement gap and improving school performance, there is increasing evidence that early learning programs are being implemented as a part of education reform efforts. In the latest publication by Pre-K Now, a project of the Pew Center on the States, the organization highlights five local models of school reform that use pre-k as a strategy to improve long-term outcomes for the children in their district. The publication draws attention to the pre-k efforts of school districts in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Missouri, North Carolina, and California through short, descriptive write-ups of the districts pre-k efforts. Donna Towers, a member of the St. Charles School Board in Missouri, seems to share the sentiment of each of the districts when she said, “We’re either going to pay the cost on the front end and get kids into preschool programs or we’re going to pay on the back end because they are at risk.” Read the entire publication here.

All 50 states and D.C.—Pew Home Visiting Inventory—National Overview

The Pew Center on the States recently released a report with the results of a survey of state agency leaders and the District of Columbia that gives a national overview of home visiting in all 50 states. The survey inventoried state home visiting programs, models, funding and polices for fiscal year 2009-2010. Overall the report finds that:

  • 46 states and the District of Columbia have some level of fiscal year 2009-2010 investment in home visiting.
  • In fiscal year 2009-2010, states made $1.4 billion available to home visiting programs via two primary funding strategies: categorical funding and broad-based prevention funding.
  • State general funds were the largest source of support for home visiting programs in fiscal year 2009-2010.
  • A total of 39 programs reported investments of $266 million in fiscal year 2009-2010 in the three most widely used of the federally approved, evidence-based models: Healthy Families America, Nurse-Family Partnership and Parents as Teachers.

The report also suggests five policy recommendations to help states prepare to deploy new federal resources and get the highest returns on their investments in home visiting. Recommendations include requiring tracking of all home visiting funds and investing in programs with a foundation in research. Click here to read all of the policy recommendations and the complete report.

Early Childhood News and Resources

Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers are the Poorest Age Group

Earlier this week, the U.S. Census Bureau released new poverty data showing children have been the hardest hit by the recession and recent downturn. Children represent the poorest age group with 16.4 million now living in poverty. The new numbers are grim and shameful—22 percent—or over one in five children in America—were poor in 2010. Children under five suffered most—one in four—or 5.5 million infants, toddlers and preschoolers were poor in 2010. The new data paint a particularly devastating portrait for young children of color:  45.5 percent of Black and 37.6 percent of Hispanic children under five were extremely poor. Learn more with CDF's response to the new data and read "The New Poor: The Potter Family", a story of one struggling family in Ohio, part of a new series written by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Julia Cass on behalf of CDF.

Putting the Pieces Together: Community Efforts to Support our Youngest Children 0-8

The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has released this new publication as a snapshot of the creative work taking place in communities across the country. The report represents the culmination of the Early Learning Communities Initiative launched by ACF in February, 2010, to investigate and support innovative and effective local community-based approaches for improving and coordinating services to low income young children and families.

Already Ahead: Top Contenders in the Race to the Top—Early Learning Challenge

The Early Education Initiative a program of the New America Foundation recently released a state-by-state analysis, identifying 11 states as top contenders in the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge.

Talking About Reforming Head Start

This blog post by Early Ed Watch reports about a recent event in which questions were raised about Head Start by Steve Barnett, a professor of education economics at Rutgers University and co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research. Mr. Barnett questions the effectiveness of Head Start and what needs to be done to reform the program.

Students Back to School in N. Virginia; Fairfax Begins Full-day Kindergarten

During tight budget times parents in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area successfully led a campaign to ensure that all kindergarteners in their district are able to attend full time.

NBCDI Annual Conference 2011; Oct 8, 2011 – Oct 11, 2011

Join early childhood educators, administrators and other professionals in education, policymakers, researchers, and child development experts for the 41st annual conference of the National Black Child Development Institute (NBCDI). The conference will feature keynote speakers Jeff Johnson, Donna Joyner, and Patricia Russell-McCloud, as well as presenters Barbara T. Bowman, Jana Fleming, and Aisha Ray.

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