Quality early childhood programs provide a path to success in school and in life. They are smart investments that support current and future economic competitiveness. Investing in our youngest citizens will help our region reach its full potential.
Currently, only 33% of NRV children ages birth to five are participating in early education and childcare programs. In the 2018-19 academic year, over 18% of children entering Kindergarten in the NRV failed to meet the PALS-K school readiness benchmark. Three counties in the region had fail-rates over 20%. These same localities have the largest early education capacity gaps (over 75%).
The Smart Beginnings NRV program recently completed an Early Childhood Regional Assessment funded by the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation (VECF). The Regional Assessment explores the outcomes of the current early childhood system, the risk factors influencing these outcomes, the early childhood services currently available, as well as service gaps and challenges by locality. Major service gaps and challenges include:
- the early childhood workforce crisis – severe shortage of qualified teachers, primarily due to pay
- locality-specific childcare deserts – severe shortage in quality early education and childcare opportunities for children ages 0-5 in Floyd, Giles, and Pulaski
- regionwide infant/toddler capacity gaps – severe shortage in placements for children ages 0-2 in both the private sector and government funded programs
- parent/caregiver awareness of available services and resources
- community awareness of the importance of investing in early childhood programs
- parent mental health and substance abuse issues prevent children from thriving
Extensive research has revealed returns of $4 to $9 for every dollar invested in early childhood programs. Challenges ahead for the region include increasing local investment, fully harnessing federal and state resources, and inspiring community commitment to providing all children a path to a bright future.
Check out the Early Childhood Regional Assessment to learn more – https://arcg.is/z1fv
VECF recently awarded Smart Beginning NRV an Innovative Partnerships grant to build on the Early Childhood Regional Assessment and develop a collaborative School Readiness Strategic Plan to align community efforts and drive investment.
Check out VECF’s press release for more information on Innovative Partnerships grantees – http://www.vecf.org/virginia-early-childhood-foundation-awards-six-innovative-partnership-grants-for-fy19/