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Child-development support is at hand

Communities benefit from quality early childhood education, but first and foremost, children benefit. While I appreciate the acknowledgement in Joy Pullmann’s piece “No substitute for parenting (Nov. 6)” that early learning is crucial to later success, I contend that we as a community – as a state – share responsibility for ensuring quality care that all children not only need but deserve.

Traditionally, parents are their children’s first and best teachers, providing optimum learning experiences during the early years of a child’s development.

In a perfect world, all parents would have ample time, resources and knowledge to provide learning experiences that guarantee future success for their children.

However, due to various reasons, not all children have access to quality learning environments during those critical preschool years, even at home. Through no fault of their own, many children fall behind during the earliest years, rarely catching up.

Today, child care is an integral part of the American landscape as the number of parents in the workplace continues to increase. It only makes sense for communities to strive for high standards of quality early learning that lead to success in school and in the years beyond. Early Childhood Alliance and other related organizations serve as champions for young children, providing programs and services to help children, their parents and their child care providers make the most of early learning. It’s an important partnership in many communities as it is in ours but is sometimes constrained by limited resources.

Partnering with state agencies helps. In 2010 Indiana adopted a voluntary quality rating system – Paths to Quality – that provides guidelines for child care standards of quality. Designed to help parents identify and select the best early care and education, Paths to Quality increases the opportunities for children to receive the warm, nurturing, stimulating care they need as programs and providers move from one level to the next, starting with the most basic health and safety needs. The program was developed and first implemented right here in northeast Indiana – by ECA. Early-learning professionals at the state level now work hand in hand with agencies such as ECA around the state in monitoring quality child care programs and networking for continued early-learning progress for Indiana’s children.

These efforts are not new. Nationally recognized longitudinal studies of child care prior to 2000 have continued to track participants up to 30 years later, as the very nature of these studies intended, to quantify the long-term effect of quality care. The research shows that those in quality child care have achieved higher levels of education, higher earnings and more consistent employment – and less government assistance – than the control group not enrolled in comparable child care. Those same studies also indicated less crime involvement and delayed pregnancy.

Quality early care actually saves taxpayers money. When funding is made available for early learning, less money is spent on remediation, rehabilitation and law enforcement costs at a ratio of $7 to $1. The economic effect of quality early care is an important part of the overall picture.

Ultimately, we all want the best for young children, however that happens. For some children, parents provide the best care, but for others, quality child care is needed beyond the home. Encouraging government agencies and legislators to work with early childhood professionals to allocate funds for quality early learning is critical. We can best help children reach their potential with a combined effort of a number of partners working toward building a better future for children.

Madeleine Baker is executive director of the Early Childhood Alliance. She wrote this for The Journal Gazette.