A Statewide Educational Campaign To Focus on the First Years

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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.