Early Childhood Education Update - March 2010

March 10, 2010 | Teresa Lim

In this issue:

IMMIGRANT FAMILIES AND CHILD CARE SUBSIDIES: WHAT FEDERAL LAW AND GUIDANCE SAYS

One in four young children in the United States lives in an immigrant family. Federal law establishes policies on immigrant eligibility for child care assistance, yet questions regarding eligibility remain at the state and local level. Most child care assistance is funded through the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant, which have differing rules regarding immigrant eligibility. CLASP has released a new fact sheet, Immigrant Families and Child Care Subsidies: What Federal Law and Guidance Says, which clarifies questions on child care assistance for young children of immigrant families. The fact sheet lays out rules and guidance related to immigrant eligibility for child care subsidies through both funding streams. In addition, it should be noted that all programs that receive federal funds are required to comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits agencies that receive federal financial assistance from discriminating based on race, color, or national origin and requires such agencies to take reasonable steps to provide limited English proficient (LEP) individuals with meaningful access to their programs, activities, and services.

STATE EFFORTS TO RESPOND TO THE NEEDS OF YOUNG LATINO CHILDREN

In a new report, Responding to the Needs of Young Latino Children: State Efforts to Build Comprehensive Early Learning Systems, the National Council of La Raza highlights current federal and state developments in early education and potential areas that states can improve in their early learning systems to ensure that the needs of all young children are supported. Latino children represent about a quarter of children under age five in the U.S. and are the fastest growing demographic group of young children. Yet, they have the least access to formal early childhood education. The report illustrates the critical need to support Latino children and English Language Learners (ELLs), who may face particular obstacles in achieving school readiness. For instance, Latino children are more likely to live in poverty than white children. Children in poverty have fewer resources available to help them prepare for school. The report looks at several federal opportunities in early childhood and at whether states address culturally and linguistically diverse children and providers in their early learning standards and early childhood professional development systems.

Overall, the report finds that most state early learning standards were formed with limited input from Latino stakeholders and do not address the needs of ELLs. Similarly, most state early childhood professional development systems do not adequately prepare providers on serving diverse children and families. States report that lack of resources, expertise, and political interest are among the factors contributing to the lack of cultural and linguistic responsiveness. The report presents a set of recommendations for federal and state policymakers to develop comprehensive early learning systems that consider the needs of Latino and ELL children.

CHILDREN'S HEALTHWATCH RELEASES ACTION BRIEFS ON WIC AND CHILD CARE FEEDING PROGRAMS

Two new action briefs from Children's HealthWatch highlight the benefits of child nutrition programs on young children's health and development:

  • WIC Improves Child Health and School Readiness: This brief observes that only just over half of young children eligible for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) participate in the program, despite the program's benefits to society and children's well-being. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that for every $1 invested in WIC, there is a savings of $1.77-$3.13 in health care costs in the first two months after an infant's birth. Research from Children's HealthWatch also finds that children under age 3 who participate in WIC are more likely to be in good health compared to WIC-eligible children not in the program. In addition, WIC lowers the risk of developmental delays among young children.
  • Child Care Feeding Programs Support Young Children's Healthy Development: This brief observes that the Child and Adult Food Care Program (CACFP) provides meal subsidies for almost three million children a day in licensed child care centers and sponsored family child care homes. While additional data on program participation is limited, research from Children's HealthWatch indicates that children receiving meals through CACFP are less likely to be in poor health or to be hospitalized and more likely to have a healthy weight and height.

THE COSTS OF DISINVESTMENTS IN EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION

A new issue brief from the Partnership for America's Economic Success provides a snapshot of key reasons why state investments in early childhood are critical to maintain. The brief, The Costs of Disinvestments: Why States Can't Afford to Cut Smart Early Childhood Programs, illustrates the widespread impacts of early childhood programs, including:

  • Home visiting/Parent mentoring programs: Home visiting and parent mentoring programs can reduce the number of low-birthweight babies by half, saving over $25,000 per low-birthweight baby.
  • Pre-kindergarten programs: High-quality pre-kindergarten programs can reduce the need for remedial and special education services. For instance, the percentage of children in Pennsylvania's pre-kindergarten program who have developmental delays by the end of the school year has decreased from 21 percent to 8 percent.
  • Teacher retention: Research indicates that children entering kindergarten who are school-ready help to reduce teacher turnover.
  • Local economy stimulation: Parents who have consistent, high-quality child care are able to work more productively and depend less on public assistance. Moreover, for every dollar spent on federal child care subsidies, states produce about two dollars in local spending.

As states are forced to reduce their budgets, the brief also highlights five overarching principles that they should consider in deciding how to prioritize programs.

MAINE CHILDREN'S ALLIANCE RELEASES SCHOOL READINESS STUDY

Maine Children's Alliance released its first annual data report on school readiness. The report, Maine Children's Growth Council Report: School Readiness 2010, presents a current portrait of the state's early childhood system and identifies areas of progress as well as areas in need of improvement. Four components critical to school readiness are examined: "ready families," "ready schools," "ready community," and "ready early care and education." The report provides data on how the state is addressing each of these areas. More specifically, the report provides state and county-level data on:

  • Ready families: family literacy, economic supports, economic assistance for families with children under age six, and child welfare services
  • Ready communities: quality of neighborhood and access to health care services
  • Early care and education: access to licensed child care and family, friend, and neighbor care; Head Start and public pre-kindergarten enrollment; and quality rating system participation
  • Ready schools: kindergarten enrollment and kindergarten children with special needs

Overall, the report finds that while there are areas of progress, the state's early childhood system can be further improved to meet the needs of young children and their families. Among the report's findings:

  • Areas of progress: About 87 percent of pregnant women in Maine received prenatal care in their first trimester, which is above the national average. In addition, over half of children had access to a medical home.
  • Areas in need of further attention: The number of Maine children under age six who live at or below the poverty level has been greater than other New England states in the past five years. In addition, the immunization rate for 2-year-olds decreased from 2006 to 2007.

The report offers recommendations to address service gaps in the system and to build on existing successes in each of the four components of school readiness.

PENNSYLVANIA INFANT/TODDLER SYSTEMS COMMITTEE RELEASES STRATEGIC PLAN ON SUPPORTING BABIES AND THEIR FAMILIES

In 2009, the Pennsylvania Early Learning Advisory Council established an Infant/Toddler Systems Committee to identify factors critical to understanding infant/toddler development and to produce a set of recommendations for supporting very young children and their families in the state's early childhood system. The committee recently released the results of its research and recommendations for the council in a new report, Improving the Development of Pennsylvania Infants and Toddlers. The report lays out the economic and scientific reasons for infant/toddler investments and presents a vision for the state that would ensure that all infants and toddlers have the supports and services they need for healthy growth and development. To move towards this vision, the report outlines four recommendations:

  • Create a statewide infant/toddler service program that serves vulnerable infants and toddlers and ensures that they receive quality early learning,
  • Identify and provide referrals for at-risk infants and toddlers through improved developmental screening,
  • Support a high-quality, multi-disciplinary workforce with knowledge and skills in infant/toddler development and care, and
  • Ensure that the social/emotional needs of infants, toddlers, and their families are met through behavioral health services and supports.

The report provides a detailed description of Keystone Babies, an infant/toddler initiative currently in implementation, that the state can build on to ensure that the needs of vulnerable infants and toddlers are supported.

EVALUATING SCHOOL READINESS IN THE MISSOURI QUALITY RATING SYSTEM

The Center for Family and Policy Research released a study on the link between participation in a higher quality early childhood program, as identified by a higher Quality Rating System (QRS) rating, and better school preparedness. The study, The Missouri Quality Rating System School Readiness Study, analyzed 38 licensed programs in three cities of Missouri that participate in the Missouri QRS. The Missouri QRS is a five-tiered rating system where five stars represents the highest level of quality. In the study, children's school readiness was assessed based on a wide range of indicators, such as early literacy skills, math skills, and social-emotional development. The study compared the differences in school readiness between children in programs of varying levels of quality. Overall, the study found that children who attended programs with higher QRS ratings showed greater gains in social/emotional development compared to children in programs with lower QRS ratings. Among the report's findings:

  • Low versus high QRS rated programs: Children in programs with a QRS rating of 4 or 5 stars showed significant improvements in social and behavioral skills, motivation, self-control, and positive adult relationships compared to children in programs with a 1 or 2 star rating.
  • Low versus medium QRS rated programs: Children in 3 star programs showed overall significant improvements in social and behavioral skills compared to children in 1 or 2 star programs.
  • Medium versus high QRS rated programs: Children in 4 or 5 star programs showed only a small gain in self-control compared to children in 3-star programs.

The study also examined the association between participation in higher quality programs and school readiness among children in poverty. In this analysis, the study found that children in poverty particularly benefit from attendance in high-quality programs. Children who attended high-quality programs showed significant gains in social and behavioral skills as well in early literacy and physical development.

THE PRICE OF HIGH-QUALITY EARLY CARE AND EDUCATION IN WISCONSIN

A new report, The Price of Quality: Estimating the Cost of a Higher Quality Early Childhood Care and Education System for Southeast Wisconsin, from the Public Policy Forum analyzes the cost of improving the quality of child care and early education in southeast Wisconsin. The report uses the National Association for the Education of Young Children's (NAEYC) standards for high-quality child care as benchmarks for calculating the direct service costs needed to improve quality. Direct service costs consist primarily of labor expenses, such as staff salaries. Three estimates for total direct service costs are presented:

  • Current direct service costs: The current cost of maintaining early childhood services is about $370 million.
  • Better-quality services: A total of about $506 million is estimated as needed to offer better-quality services. Better-quality services represent the midway point to achieving high-quality early care.
  • High-quality services: A total of about $671 million is estimated as needed to provide high-quality services.

In addition to direct services, the report provides estimates for infrastructure costs during the first year of implementation of a quality improvement initiative. Infrastructure costs include technical assistance, monitoring and quality assurance, evaluation and assessment, and governance. Professional development costs are not calculated due to limited available data. The report lastly examines five policy and financing models that states have used to advance quality improvement efforts. Details, such as whether there is targeted or universal assistance, are provided for each model.

CASE STUDIES ON EARLY CHILDHOOD MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES IN CONNECTICUT, ILLINOIS, MICHIGAN, AND OHIO

Four new case studies on early childhood mental (ECMH) services in Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio provide insight into how states are supporting the mental health needs of young children. Each of the states has a governor's initiative or partnership on ECMH; none have a statewide ECMH policy. The case studies are compiled in a report, Early Childhood Mental Health Services: Four State Case Studies, by Project Forum at the National Association of State Directors of Special Education. The report provides a summary of services that are offered and types of data that are collected by each state. Four key components of ECMH systems are then further discussed: consultation in Connecticut, finance in Illinois, workforce preparation and professional development in Michigan, and partnerships in Ohio.  While the states have varying approaches to addressing ECMH services, the report finds that they share similar challenges, such as:

  • Lack of qualified ECMH professionals and inter-agency collaborations,
  • Inadequate funding and difficulties in braiding funding streams,
  • Weak statewide oversight of programs, and
  • Uncoordinated data systems.

In addition, the report finds that all states support reforms in Medicaid policy, in particular changes in the diagnostic provisions, to ensure that children and families who require ECMH services are able to receive them. States also indicated the need for improved funding to support professional development training and better understanding among state leadership about the importance of relationship-based services for young children and their families.

THE IMPACTS OF PERSISTENT FEAR AND ANXIETY ON YOUNG CHILDREN'S DEVELOPMENT

The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child released a new working paper, Persistent Fear and Anxiety Can Affect Young Children's Learning and Development, the ninth in a series highlighting key issues that affect early childhood development. The latest paper reviews the current research literature and emerging scientific evidence on the processes that underlie young children's responses to fear and anxiety as well as the long-term impacts of early experiences with these stresses. Current research shows that young children need safe and secure environments for healthy growth and development. Repeated exposure to stress-inducing situations can have lasting, harmful effects on a child's brain formation. While common childhood stresses, such as fears of monsters in the dark, generally go away as a child matures, anxiety and fear caused by traumatic events, such as physical abuse, can have lasting and detrimental effects on brain development. The report finds that repeated experiences with intense, stressful or fearful situations can especially harm a child's learning and emotional development. Among the adverse effects:

  • Learning and social interactions: Young children learn to associate certain fears with certain contexts and circumstances. These fears become generalized over time and triggered by a broader set of factors, which impairs a child's ability to learn and socialize with others.
  • Distorted emotional perceptions: Children develop distorted understandings of threat and safety and are unable to distinguish or respond appropriately to different kinds of emotions.
  • Learning versus unlearning fears: Children can begin developing fears at an early age. However, unlearning these fears can take years to complete. These fears must be actively unlearned, which can only occur when certain parts of the brain have matured.

In addition to identifying adverse effects, the paper demystifies common misunderstandings about the impacts of stress-inducing situations on young children. The paper emphasizes the need for comprehensive resources and services that address both the physical and mental development of young children, particularly low-income children who are disproportionately affected by stressful experiences.

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