What does child care have to do with Vermont’s economy?

A new study, led by neuroscientists at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and Columbia University Medical Center, has shown that family income and parental education affect child and adolescent brain development. The study highlights that too many children are well-behind their peers in cognitive, social and emotional development by the time they reach the age of three. Having a significant segment of our young population not getting off to a strong start has serious budgetary and economic implications for Vermont.
 
The Permanent Fund is now focusing on the following four messages related to strengthening the Vermont economy:
 
1. Pay now or pay later. 
Health and human services-related costs have been far outpacing the rise in inflation and the growth of our economy. Special education costs alone have risen from approximately $150 million to $300 million in the last 20 years largely due to increased behavioral issues linked to social-emotional development, while general student enrollment was decreasing. Sound research has shown that high-quality early care and learning reduces the need for special education services. A recent study out of Duke University found that an investment of $1,100 per child in high-quality early care and education reduced children’s odds of needing special education by 39% in third grade.  This smart investment would allow us to save significantly on a wide variety of costs which are putting a tremendous strain on our state’s budget year after year.
 
2. Making Vermont the best place in the nation in which to raise a family is a savvy economic development strategy. 
Over the past 20 years, Vermont births have been steadily declining and enrollment in K-12 has decreased by 18,000 students. These are troubling statistics as we need more, not fewer, young people entering the state’s workforce and contributing to a strong economy. A system of high-quality, affordable child care will create a favorable environment for parents to have children and, as important, for those children to thrive. Chambers of Commerce tell us that when small businesses and young families are considering a move to Vermont, the top three questions they ask are related to the quality of our education system, the affordability of housing and access to high-quality, affordable child care.
 
3. Since our children will become the engine that drives the economy, we cannot afford to give up on any of them.
We know that 90% of the core development of a child’s brain occurs by the age of five and that, by far, the highest return on investment in education is in the very early years. When children show up at kindergarten prepared for school they have a chance to have success in school, continue on to higher education and contribute to a skilled workforce. We are at a point now in Vermont when we must pay attention to the research and invest our available funds where they will produce the highest returns.
 
4. Access to high-quality, affordable child care contributes to workforce development. 
We can’t be our best at work if we’re worried about who is going to care for our children. Vermont businesses’ ability to recruit and retain productive employees is greatly enhanced when parents in the workforce have access to high-quality, affordable child care.
 
In addition to the public awareness efforts of Let’s Grow Kids and the systems-building work of Vermont Birth to Five, here are two areas of innovation where we will focus in 2017:
 
1. The early childhood professional as a key member of the population health care team.
By recognizing that child care providers can play a critical role in the health of children and even their families, we make it possible to both streamline services and cut down on health care costs down the road. For more on the connection between high-quality child care and cost effective approaches to health care, go to: http://www.permanentfund.org/healthcare-integration/.
 
Alan Guttmacher, recent director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), has joined the Permanent Fund team and will assist Aly Richards, our CEO, in forwarding this effort. With his extensive experience in pediatric research and commitment to improving health outcomes for children and families, we are so lucky to have Alan working with us on this important initiative.
 
2. The Shared Services model as a way to make child care more cost effective. 
Vermont, as a small, rural state with small and widely-dispersed child care programs, is challenged to take advantage of the cost-efficiencies associated with larger child care centers. A Shared Services Network is a community-based partnership comprised of child care programs working together to share services such as bookkeeping, billing and collections, purchasing, insurance, access to nurses, mental health consultants and substitutes.
 
Our focus on a statewide systems change presents quite different challenges than investing individually in good programs and requires a determined patience. At the same time, our short, now 8-year, timeframe creates a sense of urgency for the Permanent Fund team and all associated with this movement. We would not have begun to accomplish what we have without the enduring commitment of our supporters and now, more than ever, we appreciate that continued support.
 
There is a noticeable buzz and increase in momentum in the child care movement from where we were a year ago. Aly will keep you up to date on the details of Permanent Fund progress as we work toward our goal of all Vermont children having access to high-quality, affordable early care and learning by the year 2025.

Summertime and the Learning Never Stops

Summer has officially arrived in the Green Mountain State. The mosquitoes are buzzing. Gardens are growing. Children are wrapping up their busy school years. And, working parents have turned their attention to summer camps. Transitioning from the structure of preK and school to the less-structured summer schedule is a big change in the daily routine, especially for Vermont families with young children.

Learning begins at birth_Summer child in sprinklerPiecing together childcare, camps and other activities that don’t always correspond with a parent’s full-day work schedule can be a juggling act. And trying to find quality programs for children can be tough. But sometimes we need to look no further than our own backyard for quality experiences and learning opportunities.

Learning begins at birth

As I speak with people about the work of the Permanent Fund, I’ve noticed that the words “learning” and “education” can conjure up somewhat narrow definitions. Many people equate learning with cognitive skills like knowing the ABCs, colors, how to count to ten or tie shoes. And they usually connect education to the public schools—kindergarten and beyond.

But as I’ve written before, we know that learning and education begins the moment a newborn enters this world. The brain develops very rapidly in the first few years. And during this time, the child is not only building a foundation for future cognitive development, but also for social-emotional skills that will enable her to cope with life’s ups and downs.

These skills are developed through the interactions babies and toddlers have with their parents and other caregivers. The relationships that a child has during these early years are so important. Babies develop trust, empathy and self-esteem from positive relationships in their lives.

Serve and return interactions like talking, cooing and playing with babies provide the baby’s developing brain with the input they need and crave. They are forming 700 neural connections every second! Their brains are like little sponges working to soak up every experience and interaction to create the foundation for future learning and development. The quality of the environment that a child spends their time in can impact them greatly—positively or negatively. Children thrive when they have safe, stimulating places to play, grow and live.

Learning opportunities abound

While the older children are relishing in their new-found freedom from the academic demands of school, we know that learning never stops—even with the start of summer. So whatever the activities your summer includes, I hope it is filled with much fun, sunshine, laughter and learning with the children in your life!

photo credit CC via flickr: Matt Molinari

A Statewide Educational Campaign To Focus on the First Years

child_pf

It was such a thrill to celebrate the launch of the Let’s Grow Kids campaign on Burlington’s Waterfront in late April. Although spring wasn’t yet fully in bloom in Vermont, the launch event, like the time of year, signifies new beginnings.

The Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children is one of three funders supporting Let’s Grow Kids (our long-time funding partners, the A.D. Henderson Foundation and the Turrell Fund, are the others).

Some have asked us, “Why fund a campaign? Why not continue your focus on the other PF initiatives?” So with these questions in mind, we set out to share our thinking — and the impetus for this campaign — in this blog post.

A continuing collaboration on early childhood

Certainly the campaign represents a new tactic or initiative for the Permanent Fund, however, our focus on early childhood remains firm. The Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children has been collaborating with the A.D. Henderson Foundation and the Turrell Fund for years to support our child-focused initiatives: Vermont Birth to Three, the Vermont Community Preschool Collaborative, and mentoring (formerly the Vermont Mentoring Funders Collaborative, now Mobius). We have made an impact through these demonstration projects so this work and our collaboration will continue.

We’ve also come to realize that to truly make a long-term, lasting impact, it was vitally important that we engage the general public—beyond parents and the early childhood community—and help the broader public understand why this work is so important.

As Abraham Lincoln once said, “…with public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed….”

Education to mobilize public support

We found through our statewide research that many Vermonters were not aware of the significance of the early years of development, especially from birth to age 3. We now know through settled brain science that 80% of a child’s brain development occurs during the first three years and that the early experiences and relationships in a child’s life are so important to their future success.LGK_90_brain_development2-01

So with this research in hand, our charge was clear: We needed to increase awareness about the important early years of development to mobilize support for a stronger, more integrated system that serves all Vermont children and families well.

What the data shows

Here in Vermont, we have data—like rates of kindergarten readiness, third grade literacy, developmental screenings, high school graduation—that tell us things can be better and must get better if we want to strengthen our families, our communities and our economy.

At the event we heard that more than half of Vermont’s children were deemed not ready for kindergarten. (When children show up at kindergarten not ready to learn, they continue to fall further behind and rarely catch up.) We also heard that 32% of our third graders were reading below grade level. Only 32% of our children age 0 to 5 received developmental screenings in 2011-12—but our state goal is 95%.LGK_kindergarten3-01

We also know that things have changed since many of us grew up. In Vermont, 70% of working parents with children under the age of 6 are in the workforce—that’s quite different from the Ozzie and Harriet scenarios that many of us may have grown up with. And it means many of our children are spending as much as 40 hours per week—or more—in care outside the home. So it’s clear that parents are no longer the only ones raising their children. It truly takes a community.LGK_70_parents_work-01

Join the campaign

While the Permanent Fund, A.D. Henderson Fund and the Turrell Fund continue to work on the initiatives already in place, we are working to broaden the base of those who share our vision that all Vermont children should have the opportunity to thrive and the chance to lead happy, healthy, and productive lives. After all, when our children are happy and healthy, we all win.

We hope you will join our cause. Find out how you can get involved in Let’s Grow Kids and help us in our effort.

Addiction is a Preventable Developmental Disease

“Addiction is a preventable developmental disease that starts in childhood and adolescence,” reports the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). A quick glance at the research on addiction risk and protective factors available through NIDA and the Centers for Disease Control reads like an extended testimonial for quality early childhood care and education. That is the message the Permanent Fund’s Rick Davis and Julie Coffey of Building Bright Futures brought to to The :30 Show on WCAX-TV recently.

So much to say, so little time

Five minutes on TV goes by very quickly. This subject is worthy of an hour-long special, but that can be saved for a future blog post. Here are a few highlights of the WCAX interview, and the essential connections you want to hold onto for community conversations about early childhood and drug addiction.

Three critical early childhood and addiction connections

1. Brain development science from birth to age 5

Brain development before age 5

2. Quality early childhood environments increase protective factors (and adverse experiences increase vulnerability to addiction and other health problems)

The Alberta Family Wellness Initiative has an extensive collection of resources on the physical and emotional links between early childhood experiences and addiction.

BrainDevelopment-Addiction_AlbertaFamilyWellness

3. Poor early childhood environments increase risk factors and the likelihood of poor outcomes

quality early education offers protectionWhat Vermont is doing

There is a long way to go before every Vermont child has a safe, stimulating and nurturing early childhood environment from birth to age 5 — but there are some bright spots. As of January 2014, there are a few signs of progress:

  • H.270, a bill to expand access to pre-kindergarten education
  • Federal Race-to-the-Top grant to build capacity in Vermont’s early childhood system
  • Additional funding for childcare in the new Pathways out of Poverty
  • Early childhood action planning, following a statewide summit

Resources

Topics in Brief: Drug Abuse Prevention (National Institute on Drug Abuse)

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study (Centers for Disease Control)

Building Bright Futures

Early Childhood Research: A Roundup of Recent Favorites

For those of us interested in effecting positive change in systems for early care, health and education, there have been a wealth of research studies and reports released in recent months. Here are a few of those I found most valuable.

baby with alphabet blocks

Children, dollars and sense

Researchers at the Brookings Institution recently released a brief estimating the cost and benefits of a “sustained approach to intervention” that goes from birth through adolescence. Specifically, they focus on interventions at four stages of life: birth, early childhood, elementary school, and high school. Based on evidence of real large-scale programs that have demonstrated effectiveness, the researchers conclude that the benefits due to greater academic achievement and adult outcomes (e.g., income) would outweigh the costs of investing in such a sustained approach.

Child Care Aware just released its 2013 update of their cost of child care report, which includes state-by-state data on average child care cost for infants, 4-year-olds, and school-age children in both center-based and home-based settings. Child care continues to be one of the highest budget items for families, rivaling college costs in some cases.

Pre-Kindergarten

A team of researchers summarized decades of research on pre-kindergarten education in a recent paper from the Society for Research in Child Development and the Foundation for Child Development. The researchers concluded that large-scale, publicly-funded pre-k can produce both short- and long-term benefits. Key to getting such results include the quality of curricula and teacher-child interactions, the availability of effective coaches and mentors for pre-k teachers, the duration of services (number of hours and years) especially for low-income children, and strategic inclusion of family supports and comprehensive services. As part of the release of the paper, the New America Foundation organized a panel to discuss its findings and implications for policy.

The importance of the first eight years

The Alliance for Early Success, in collaboration with Child Trends, released a paper that lays out the research basis for focusing on the first eight years of life as a core strategy for improving outcomes for children and families. The publication identifies a number of research-based policy choices that state leaders can make in the areas of health, family support, and learning. It further lays out choices state policymakers can make regarding standards (for both children and services), screening and assessment, and accountability systems to promote effective program implementation. As a whole, this publication can help inform a comprehensive state strategy to build a strong foundation for success as children progresses from the early childhood to the early elementary years.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation also released a paper about the importance of the first eight years. The publication calls attention to data about the well-being of 3rd graders’ cognitive development, social-emotional development, engagement in school, and physical health, highlighting disparities among income and racial groups. It issues a call to action at both the federal and state levels in three areas: strengthening family supports; improving early care and education, K-3, health care, and other services; coordinating services for children from birth through age 8. Specific recommendations are offered under each of these three areas.