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WORKING FAMILIES

AND THE STRUGGLE TO FIND QUALITY EARLY CHILDHOOD CARE

by Carl Sims Early childhood marks a critical period for cognitive development and is the time when the brain develops the most rapidly. In addition to family efforts to foster this growth, a child’s enrollment in a high-quality education and care program has been shown to be one of the most effective tools for healthy cognitive development and has been proven to be a major determinant of later life outcomes. At the CSG 2018 National Conference in December, Jennifer Grisham-Brown, faculty director of the University of Kentucky Early Childhood Laboratory, provided remarks at a session on early childhood care about the importance of quality programs. “Children who do not have access to quality child care tend to not do as well in school and have poor outcomes that follow them through their lives,” said Grisham-Brown. “We also know that children who grow up in poverty and who receive quality child care do better in school and are more successful. Therefore, quality child care for all children should be the goal.”

ISSUE 1 2019 | CAPITOL IDEAS

Research conducted by Dr. James Heckman, a Nobel Prize winning economist and advocate of early childhood education, supports this. He concludes that high-quality programs result in higher attainment levels, lifetime earnings, employment levels and home ownership rates. Moreover, they reduce social costs such as the need for remedial education, unemployment benefits, incarcerations and even trips to the emergency room. Heckman’s research has also found that high-quality early childhood education and care programs provide a $7-$12 return in benefits for every dollar invested and that quality programs have a 3-6 percent higher return on investment than lower quality programs.

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However, working families, especially those that have children with special needs or are headed by one parent, commonly experience substantial challenges in finding quality providers. Significant disparities also exist along the lines of socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity. According to a report by the U.S. Department of Education, children from low-income families have a 41 percent enrollment in preschool compared to 61 percent in higher-income families. The report also found that Latino children enroll in preschool at a 40 percent rate, compared to 50 percent for African American children, and 53 percent for white children. Regardless of a family’s background, the limitations in finding effective early childhood education and care are primarily explained by three factors: quality, cost and availability.

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Capitol Ideas Issue 1 | 2019