Local View: Our children are the future; we must support them – The Columbian
Most Clark County residents would agree that our community is a great place to raise a family. But things are tough for the 1 in 7 children under the age of 5 who lives in poverty, the 6 of every 1,000 children who live in foster care, and the single parents who collectively are raising one-third of Clark County children aged 0-5.
Recent data show only 42 percent of our county’s children have the foundational skills, knowledge and abilities needed to succeed on the day they enter kindergarten. The percentage is even lower for children living in poverty and children of color.
Earlier this year, concerned citizens engaged in a series of community conversations to identify issues that limit our children’s potential and to consider policy and environmental changes that will boost support for families and children.
We learned that:
• For disadvantaged children, there is a 13 percent return on investment annually for each child enrolled in comprehensive, high-quality, birth-to-5 early childhood programs through better education, economic, health, and social outcomes. Unfortunately, such programs are unaffordable for most families, regardless of income. (James Heckman, Ph.D.)
• Child care is essential for 60 percent of Clark County children aged 0-6 whose parents work outside the home. Unfortunately, the number of slots for Head Start and Early Child Education and Assistant Program does not meet the need for low-income families.
• A consistently low pay rate for child care providers and early learning educators means rapid turnover and fluctuating quality standards.
• Parents of children who do not attend an early childhood program have few available resources to help their children meet kindergarten entry standards.
• There is no organized system to support children until they register to attend kindergarten. During these years, many children “fall through the cracks” and never receive the support that is available.
Additionally, children who grow up experiencing toxic stress and trauma are at risk of impaired brain development, elevated stress, and long-term deficits in skills and abilities that drive down social productivity and increase social costs — costs ultimately borne by the public.
To address these issues, our community needs to:
• Increase pay for caregivers and teachers and establish more preschool and quality child care programs.
• Create and promote parenting resources for children who do not attend an organized preschool so they are ready for kindergarten.
• Assess and support social-emotional competence to the same degree as academic achievement, so that youth graduate high school with the tools needed for adulthood.
• Educate parents on the impact of childhood trauma and toxic stress and teach parenting approaches that support loving, respectful and stable parent-child relationships.
• Support family resilience with policies such as paid and flexible family leave, breast feeding or baby-at-work policies, and quality, affordable child care for all.
• Increase support for foster care services and group homes so they can offer nurturing, trauma-informed care for children experiencing the stress of parental separation.
• Encourage mentoring programs that connect children with responsible, caring adults who teach kids that they matter.
• Create a system to identify, follow and support high-needs children with wraparound care so they don’t fall through the cracks.
Our children are the future of our community. How we raise them, teach them and love them will determine, in large part, whether our community thrives or suffers. We call on our local faith communities, business leaders, voters and policy makers to prioritize our children and our future by advocating for these actions.
This op-ed article was submitted to The Columbian by: Joan Caley, MS, RN, Founding Member/Outreach Team Leader, Clark County ACEs Action Alliance
Commissioner, Vancouver Housing Authority; Debbie Ham, Executive Director, Support for Early Learning and Families, and Executive Director, Southwest Washington Early Learning Coalition; Kachina Inman, MPH, Executive Director, Healthy Living Collaborative of Southwest Washington; and Jodi Wall, Executive Director, Early Care and Education, ESD 112.