Let’s continue supporting children’s growth


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In recent years, Delaware has begun to understand and embrace the scientific link between quality early learning experiences and our successful development as humans. As a leader behind one of the state’s oldest, most respected and busiest organizations serving the needs of children and their families, I say it’s time we push ourselves even further.

Families and providers have described a childcare crisis in Delaware for the last several years, prompting state leaders to invest historic amounts in childcare subsidies earlier this year. The local business and nonprofit communities have rallied around childcare as a lever for economic growth. We’ve also seen passage of local legislation that supports child and family wellbeing, like increased minimum wage and paid family medical leave. At the federal level, the 2021 child tax credit cut child poverty in half. The impact of investments like these on our society is significant. 

Children & Families First reaches more than 20,000 Delaware children and families every year through our programming. Using brain science as the foundation of our work, we understand the deep well of research that undeniably proves trauma and adversity negatively impact health, safety and wellbeing. It’s why we offer multi-generational, trauma-informed programs, services for childcare providers, evidence-based home visiting and no-cost Head Start early childhood centers – and it is only the beginning of the positive change we can create in our communities when we are guided by evidence in the field that continues to push our thinking on why early childhood development is so critically important.

Jack P. Shonkoff, M.D., a giant in the field of early childhood and director of the Harvard Center on the Developing Child, confirms that positive early childhood experiences not only impact brain growth, school readiness, and later success – but also a child’s immune system and lifelong health. In his piece, Re-Envisioning Early Childhood Policy and Practice in a World of Striking Inequality and Uncertainty, Dr. Shonkoff calls upon us to leverage scientific advances in the field of adversity and resilience to address particularly pressing needs, including expanding the focus of the early childhood ecosystem beyond poverty and educational achievement to address the critical issue of systemic racism and its impacts.

From lack of access in underserved communities to an underpaid workforce that’s supported overwhelmingly by women of color – childcare is an equity issue all the way around. Healthy, holistic services are often harder to access in low-income neighborhoods for a whole host of reasons, including systemic underinvestment in communities of color, leading to a cycle of poverty that can be difficult to untangle. 

As advocates for a healthier early learning ecosystem, we were glad to see Gov. Carney and legislators make historic investments in childcare and state-sponsored pre-K this year. It was a strong step forward – and with that momentum, it is imperative that we keep going.

The undeniable links between early brain growth and quality of life should be a headline in every budget meeting and committee hearing. As Dr. Shonkoff powerfully highlights: “All policies and programs that affect wellbeing during pregnancy and infancy present opportunities to promote lifelong health. Prenatal care and home visiting are important places to start, but persistent racial disparities in maternal health, preterm birth, low birth weight and infant mortality underscore the need to confront the ‘upstream’ effects of racism and poverty as early as possible.”

We can all agree on the value of building thriving communities that support safe, healthy, nurtured children, resilient individuals and strong families. Quality, accessible, equitable supports for young children and families are proven investments with the power to reap those benefits for all of us.

To learn more about childcare advocacy in Delaware and how you can get involved, go to www.firststateprek.com.

Kirsten Olson is CEO at Children & Families First. She has extensive experience developing and delivering successful programs and initiatives informed by a brain science approach, driving organizational change, building and leveraging collaborative relationships, and translating visionary ideas into practice. 

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