Looking ahead: 2015 and beyond

6919539028_71c540da4e_zIn our last post summarizing the highlights of 2014, I shared a major decision that the board of the Permanent Fund made that will affect how we move forward over the next 10 years. In our decision to spend down our endowment and “put all our chips on the table,” our board is communicating a sense of urgency in our work. We strongly believe there is no time to waste as we work to transform Vermont’s early care and education system and give all Vermont children a solid start in life. As board member Tom MacLeay said in a previous post: “The greatest opportunity we have to improve our economy and our community in so many ways is in how we support and invest in our youngest citizens.”

The real gamble, if you will, is in not making these strategic early investments. Fasten your seatbelts, as you read what we’ve got on the plate for this year, you’ll see, it is: Full. Speed. Ahead.

VB3 and VCPC to merge: Continued emphasis on quality

To increase their efficiency and effectiveness, plans are underway to merge our Vermont Birth to Three (VB3) and the Vermont Community Preschool Collaborative initiatives. A new name and a more public announcement will be forthcoming, but those who have worked with either team can continue to expect an emphasis on the importance of high quality in early care and education. VB3 will continue to provide incentives, mentoring and training for child care professionals to gain credentials and achieve high quality ratings through many services. And VCPC will continue to provide technical assistance to school districts and child care providers as Vermont implements the universal preschool law. Both teams are committed to strengthening our network of home-based, center-based and school-based early care for all Vermont children from birth to five.

New partnership with the health care community

In an effort to align our work with that of the health care community, VB3 will partner with the Vermont Child Health Improvement Project (VCHIP) to improve early identification and response to potential developmental delays. Child care professionals are in a unique position to identify potential developmental issues in the children in their care. They see the children and families year-round, five days a week and have established trusting relationships with the families they serve. VCHIP will provide training to support registered and licensed child care professionals in using developmental screening within their programs.

Blue Ribbon Commission to study costs and affordabilityLGK_Logo_4c

Let’s Grow Kids has been working with many individuals and organizations in the early childhood community to clearly define high quality care—what it is and what it looks like. At the same time, they’ve been working to garner support for the formation of a Blue Ribbon Commission that would study the costs of providing high quality, affordable child care and research how to fund it in a sustainable manner. Affordability and quality are two key issues that we must tackle in our quest to develop an early care and education system that benefits all Vermont children.
(While on the theme of affordability, we’re also researching the potential of privately-funded scholarships for child care, including what has worked well in other states. Stay tuned for more on this.)

New tools for tracking early childhood data

We know that children who arrive in kindergarten “ready to learn” are much more likely to experience success later in life. The Kindergarten Readiness Survey is one tool for assessing whether or not our children are prepared for kindergarten. Unfortunately, the tool is not used in a uniform way by every Vermont teacher. That’s why we’re advocating for a credible, reliable, and universally-applied Kindergarten Readiness Survey and continuing to explore other viable measurement tools from birth to five so that we can measure a child’s progress before entering preschool.

New pilot projects in the works

You may have seen Burlington Mayor Weinberger’s February announcement about the launch of a pilot project in Burlington, which is designed to improve kindergarten readiness, reduce special education costs and other public spending and help break the cycle of multi-generational poverty in Vermont’s Queen City. We were happy to provide funding to support this exciting launch and it inspired us to explore the possibility of piloting a similar project in a rural Vermont community. The hope is that these pilots, while collecting good data, will demonstrate the benefits of strategic early investments, connecting high quality experiences to successful childhood outcomes.

Why babies matter to business

We travel around the state talking to CEOs and HR professionals about why babies—and quality childcare—are important to economic development and a company’s bottom line. Surveys have shown that businesses that offer child care as a benefit to their employees experience increased productivity. After all, when parents know their children are well cared for, they can focus on their jobs without worrying about how their children are spending their time. These children are also our future workers. Giving them a solid start in life through quality care and nurturing environments supports their healthy development socially, emotionally, physically and cognitively—skills that will help ensure their future success. This year, we plan to develop several models of business-supported child care and promote these concepts to Vermont businesses.

Recognizing the work of early educators

You may have heard that the Permanent Fund announced the Early Educator of the Year award, an annual award established to recognize the important work of early educators—our children’s first teachers—and educate Vermonters that education does indeed begin at birth. We received many nominations for outstanding home-based child care professionals—those that go above and beyond for our children. The nomination period for 2015 is now closed and nominees must submit an application by May 31 to be considered for the award. We plan to announce the top two individuals in October at the annual VAEYC conference.

This year is shaping up to be a busy one and we’re excited to see how everything unfolds. Be sure to subscribe to our blog to continue to receive our updates and be on the lookout for the next issue of our newsletter.

Nominations Open for the Permanent Fund’s Early Educator of the Year Award

infantEducation begins at birth. Many of you have heard me talk about the brain science and the latest research that tells us how crucial the first five years of a child’s life are. So why when we talk about education, do we tend to think about the public education system, K through 12?

It tells me that we still have much work to do to educate Vermonters that education does indeed begin at birth and that those professionals teaching our youngest children are doing very important work —which brings me to the reason for this blog post.

Recognizing the Work of Our Children’s First Teachers

I’m thrilled to announce the Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children Early Educator of the Year Award. Through this award, we want to recognize the unsung heroes—the childcare professionals—who work so hard for our children. After all, besides parents, these individuals are a child’s first teacher. This award will honor an individual who has truly gone above and beyond to positively impact the lives of children and has been a valuable resource for families.

The top two finalists will be honored at the October 2015 VAEYC Conference in Killington, VT, where the top finalist will be announced as the Early Educator of the Year and will receive $5,000 and all expenses paid to attend the VAEYC Conference as well as one national conference. The second finalist will receive a $1,000 award and all expenses paid to attend the VAEYC Conference.

readingEarly Educator of the Year Eligibility

In this first year of the award, we are accepting nominations for an outstanding home-based childcare professional who has demonstrated a commitment to quality early childhood education. The award will alternate between honoring home-based and center-based programs each year.

To be eligible for this year’s award, a home-based childcare professional must have at least four stars in the Vermont STep Ahead Recognition System (STARS). Nominees must also have been providing care for at least three years, and must currently have infants and toddlers enrolled in their program.

Award Nomination and Review Process

Individuals may self-nominate or can be nominated by others. The nomination period is now open but will close on May 1, 2015. Those nominated will be notified and must complete and submit an application to the Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children by May 31, 2015 to be considered for the award. Nomination forms are available here.

An award selection committee comprised of leaders in early education and child development will review all award applications and choose two finalists. Committee members are: Laurel Bongiorno (Champlain College); Sherry Carlson (Vermont Community Preschool Collaborative); Becky Gonyea (Vermont Birth to Three); Scott Johnson (Lamoille Family Center); and, Melissa Riegel-Garrett (Vermont Association for the Education of Young Children).

Nominate an Early Educator Today!

We hope that you—parents, folks from the early childhood community and others—will take time to consider the childcare professionals you know. Is there someone that stands out from the rest and truly exemplifies excellence in the teaching of young children? Nominate someone today!

 

The Access and Quality Gap in Vermont’s Child Care System

Most people agree that “choice” is a good thing. But when it comes to choosing a child care provider, many Vermont parents may not feel like they have much choice available to them. And that’s something we need to change.PreK_children2_mixed-large

In a rural state access to child care is a challenge

In a previous post, PF board member Jenny Williams shared her struggle to find quality child care when she moved to Vermont some years ago. It remains a struggle for many working parents today.

We know from our experience talking with parents that they tend to look for a provider they’ve heard about from friends or family, or is close to their home or convenient to their workplace. In many of Vermont’s small communities there may be only a handful of providers—some licensed, some not. Many of the higher quality providers have waiting lists or are simply unaffordable to families. (Did you realize that many working families spend from 27 to 33% of their total income to pay for child care?) So parents end up patching together child care options, trying to make it work for their family.

Early experiences build the foundation for life

In Vermont, 72% of our children under the age of 6 have both parents in the workforce. That means children may spend 40 hours per week or more in the care of someone else.
We know that during these earliest years the brain is developing most rapidly—forming 700 to 1000 neural connections a second. Never again will the brain undergo a period of such rapid development. These connections are building a foundation for cognitive and social-emotional skills that will serve a child for their lifetime. If we don’t provide the early experiences and environments to help our children build a firm foundation early in life, when the brain is most pliable, it’s much harder to do so later and we end up paying more as a society.

When we look at child care through this lens, providing every family with access to quality child care is an issue that affects us all.

Defining quality child care

What does quality look like? I offer these descriptions:

  • Trained, professional workforce. Child care providers should be well trained and fairly paid for the important job they are doing—they are, after all, our children’s first teachers after parents. They should have a deep understanding of child development. Quality programs and providers provide a responsive, nurturing environment that feeds the child’s developing brain.
  • Consistent standards and quality outcomes. Providers should follow consistent standards that set high expectations and promote different age-appropriate approaches to learning, social-emotional development and physical growth. Programs should be evaluated regularly to make sure they have implemented the practices that work.
  • Engaged families. Child care providers should serve as resources to the family, providing information on developmental milestones, linking families to resources in their community should they need them, and helping them implement positive experiences and home environments that will promote their child’s learning and development.

How do we get there?

Here in Vermont we’re working on many fronts to improve our early care and education system. Efforts to improve quality and access, strengthen and invest in the child care workforce and build stronger community networks are underway through initiatives including Vermont Birth to Three, STARS, the Vermont Community Preschool Collaborative, the Let’s Grow Kids campaign and the Race to the Top Grant work. We recently initiated community conversations around the state to jumpstart a dialogue about the importance of early childhood.

Still, there’s more to do. If you believe all Vermont children deserve a solid start in life, please get involved and join the discussion. Visit LetsGrowKids.org for more information and to sign the pledge.

The future is brighter for everyone, when our children our happy, healthy and well cared for.

The Challenge of Quality Child Care

3082839059_43055ea50d_z (1)I moved to Norwich, Vermont from New York City in 1996 with a 14-month-old son and my husband. I was coming to Vermont to take a position in higher education. We were a young family, excited about the future and raising our children in beautiful Vermont.

The search for child care options

When we arrived in Vermont and began our search for child care, we had no idea it would be so difficult. We were coming from a situation where we were fortunate to be able to have someone come into our home and care for our infant son. It hadn’t been difficult to find someone to provide the quality of care that we were looking for—but that was in New York City. Now in Vermont, we found ourselves struggling to find a center or child care provider who even had an opening for our son!

I began to question whether I would be able to start my new job. I remember thinking: if it is so difficult for us to find quality child care, how are other families with working moms making it work?

The search for child care was an extremely eye-opening experience for us, especially as young parents. I quickly learned that many families signed up for waiting lists at child care facilities early in their pregnancies or even before becoming pregnant! I also learned that finding the type of quality care we were looking for was nothing to be taken for granted—it was extremely difficult to find the situation that would work for our family and our children.

That was 18 years ago. Today in Vermont we have the Step Ahead Recognition System (also called STARS), which can help parents identify those providers who go above and beyond what is typically required of any child care program. Providers can earn up to five stars when they make their child care programs better, based on certain quality standards. Still, we have just over half (56%) of providers participating in the state’s STARS quality rating system. The Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children is working through Vermont Birth to Three to help increase that participation rate.

Fragile structure of the child care business

When you look deeper into the business side of child care, it’s easy to see why quality places can be hard to find. The economics of running a child care business are tough. So many families—even with both parents working—cannot afford to pay the “true cost” of caring for their children. And, child care businesses cannot afford to pay enough to keep great teachers on their staff. Too often the good teachers are biding their time at a child care center until an opening appears at a local school district that can pay much higher salaries. So it becomes a vicious cycle.

Quality child care is a societal issue

I see the quest for quality child care as an issue bigger than the children and individual families it affects. It becomes an issue for our companies when their employees can’t find quality care. It becomes an issue for our communities when our children are not getting the solid start in life they need to be successful, productive citizens in the future. All our children deserve the best opportunity to succeed—and it’s in all of our interests to help make that possible.

The Permanent Fund’s work

In the end, we were fortunate to find a wonderful center to care for our children. Our three children are now teenagers, yet I continue to be thankful every day for the child care teachers they had who were also incredible resources for us as young parents. We learned so much from them!

But we still have much work ahead of us to transform the system of caring for our children in Vermont. That’s why I am so excited about the work the Permanent Fund is doing. As a board member, I can bring a first-hand experience of the child care challenges faced by working parents. And I am proud to be part of an organization that is striving to raise the quality of child care throughout Vermont while making it accessible for all children and families.

Permanent Fund Board Member Jennifer Williams, joint venture partner with Norwich Partners, is also executive director of the Children’s Fund of the Upper Valley.

Photo CC via flickr Craig Allen

On the Radio with Mark Johnson: Quality Home-Based Care and Pre-K

I recently had the opportunity to join Vermont Birth to Three Executive Director Barbara Postman and Vermont Community Preschool Collaborative Educational Consultant Sherry Carlson for two recent programs on the Mark Johnson Show (WDEV).

A wall of headphonesBarbara and I spoke with Mark Johnson about Vermont Birth to Three and the importance of developing our network of quality home-based care in Vermont. As a mostly rural state, our home-based providers don’t have access to many resources for professional development, training and other support. Vermont Birth to Three can be a great lifeline for these providers who, in addition to a child’s parents, are the first teachers in a child’s life. You can listen to the podcast here.

Sherry and I spoke with Mark Johnson about the Vermont Community Preschool Collaborative and our mission to provide access to quality pre-K in Vermont for all three- and four-year-olds. In Vermont, about 65% of our four-year-olds are enrolled in pre-K but only about 16% of our three-year-olds are enrolled. While 65% may seem like a high percentage, the quality of pre-K programming varies greatly. The cost of quality child care is also a huge burden on all families. It’s important that we improve the quality of these programs and help all working parents take advantage of publicly-funded pre-K in their communities. You can listen to the podcast here.

If you’d like more information about either of these programs, please visit our website or drop us a note.

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photo via flickr: License  AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved by Drakh