It takes all Vermonters to ensure the well-being of our children

There was real energy and excitement among the packed house in the Capitol Plaza Ballroom as we gathered for the Governor’s Summit on Early Childhood on October 29. More than 250 people attended—state and business leaders, parents, pediatricians, nurses, superintendents, principals, teachers, child care providers, non-profit organizations, and philanthropists—for the unveiling of Vermont’s Early Childhood Framework [.pdf]. This Framework for developing a high quality and integrated early childhood system is backed by the shared understanding that we all are responsible for the well-being of our youngest citizens. After all, when our children are happy, healthy and learning, we all win.
Toddler with large basketball, looking up
Photo credit: manuere from morguefile.com

What makes this effort different?

I have attended many early childhood conferences over the years, but never have I witnessed the motivation and commitment across all sectors as I did this time. This is clearly the indicator of a strong early childhood movement in Vermont that has gained momentum in recent years.

The Framework sets us on a course to build a more “family-driven and community-oriented” system that serves the whole child (health, nutritional, educational, social needs, etc.). It includes the input from Vermont parents who are so important to this process. It envisions a more integrated early childhood system that builds on what is already working well and sets aside those efforts that won’t move us forward.

The brain science tells us that experiences in the early years affect outcomes for children for many years to come. We also know that many Vermont parents (lower and middle income families alike) cite access to and affordability of high quality child care among their most pressing concerns.

Governor Shumlin asked us to look at this from both a “heart” and “head” perspective. From our hearts, we know that if we want to give every Vermont child a chance to thrive, this is the right thing to do. From the research, we know that smart early investments lead to a trained work force and a strong economy. We can pay now or pay much more later!

Where do we go from here?

We must put some meat on the bones of the Framework and develop an action plan. The action plan will define best practices for prenatal care, health care, child care and education—all the elements of an integrated early childhood system. It will establish priorities and collect data so that we have a clear picture of where we are and where we are headed. And if we truly expect to make change, we must be prepared to hold ourselves accountable, measure the results of this work, and answer the question, “Are children and families better off?”

Most importantly, this Framework needs the support of all Vermonters. The good folks of the early childhood community who attended the Governor’s Summit are working with children and families every day. They are students of the brain science and are fully committed to changing priorities so that we place an emphasis on the early years. All Vermonters must have the benefit of that knowledge. We must spread the word about why these investments are so important.

The timing has never been better

We have a Governor who understands the brain science and is prepared to champion this important issue. We have an early childhood community that is ready to lead a collaborative effort to develop good outcomes for children. We have a philanthropic community that is committed to partnering in this effort. And we have a business community that recognizes that early investments are a wise use of resources.

All Vermonters have a lot at stake here

Let us continue this effort, take bold steps and not lose this momentum as we work “to realize the promise of every Vermont child.”

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This article also appeared on VTDigger.org and in the Burlington Free Press.