Working Families Summit Recap

working families summit

On Monday, I joined President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden at the Omni Hotel in Washington D.C. for the first ever White House Summit on Working Families. The place was packed with policymakers, business and labor leaders, economists, reporters and their cameramen, and of course many advocates for working families, including parents and small business owners from across the country. The sum of us gathered for opening remarks with the same questions on our minds: What will it take to help working families succeed in the 21st century workplace, and how can we, as a nation, make it happen?

The theme of the day revealed itself early, as Dr. Jill Biden spoke about her personal experiences as a mother of three, working and going to school full-time in earlier years. Her husband and Vice President and later the Obamas would also speak to their own experiences of struggling to balance their careers with family and their children. The message was clear that although issues vary from one individual to another, no one is alone in these experiences. All working families experience these challenges.

I was very interested to see Jonathan Cohn, senior editor at New Republic and author of the Hell of American Daycare, would be moderating the opening plenary. Not surprisingly the issue of children’s health and safety in America’s child care system was brought up almost immediately. Jonathan raised the question of working families’ accessibility to quality child care, and though the panelist varied from Ivy League economics professor to Global Chairman and company CEOs, all seemed to agree that among the most basic needs of working families is the need for high-quality, early learning environments… Early learning environments where children of America’s working families can flourish in a safe and healthy setting that will stimulate their brains during the most critical of time in their development.

President Obama took the stage to talk about bringing the American economy into the 21st century and prepare workplaces to support working families in the coming decades.  He touched on the importance of spending time with family, the necessity of having flexibility in the workplace, the struggles of the “sandwich” generation who must deal with raising children, maintaining their careers, and caring for aging parents. He discussed his and Michelle’s experience as young working parents and the struggles they faced, and what he wants as a father for his two daughters.

President Barack Obama

“…I take it personally, because I am the father of two unbelievable young ladies.  And I want them to be able to have families.  And I want them to be able to have careers.  And I want them to go as far as their dreams will take them.  And I want a society that supports that.“

And perhaps most importantly, the President talked at length about child care in America. He quoted directly from Child Care Aware® of America’s 2013 Parents and the High Cost of Child Care report when he pointed out that “in 31 states, decent child care costs more than in-state college tuition.” Obama went on to say that America must find a solution to rising child care costs and the burden it puts on so many families. In his own words, “child care, workplace flexibility, a decent wage… these are not frills these are basic needs. They shouldn’t be bonuses; they should be part of our bottom line as a society.”

As fate would have it, my phone lit up just as Obama spoke about juggling careers and family obligations. I looked down and saw my daughter’s name appear on the screen.  Knowing she was with her grandparents visiting from Arizona.  I had to giggle. Really? Now?  The text exchange that followed went something like this:

ME: “Can’t talk right now. I’ll call you later”

MY DAUGHTER: “Kk”

MY DAUGHTER: “I’m just really bored, what are you doing?”

ME:  “Guess who this is?? President Obama!!” (with accompanying photo as I sat tables away from the President)

ASHLYN: “Cool, what is he doing?”

ME: “Giving a speech about kids like you and working parents like me!”

ASHLYN: “Oh”

ASHLYN: “I’m still bored”

I found it so ironic that just hours earlier I had listened to Vice President Biden emphasize the importance of every day moments, of which I am fortunate to have many with my children, and then, on that particular day, during that particular hour, my daughter was reaching out to me – at work – listening to President Obama!

Vice Preseident Joe Biden, Dr. Jill Biden

The President concluded his remarks by urging the audience to take action.

“As long as Congress refuses to act on these policies, we’re going to need you to raise your voices.  We need you to tell Congress don’t talk about how you support families, actually support families.  Don’t talk the talk.  We want you to walk the walk.

In the meantime, if Congress will not act, we’re going to need mayors to act.  We’ll need governors and state legislators to act.  We need CEOs to act.  And I will promise you, you will have a President who will take action to support working families.”

Later, the First Lady’s remarks echoed this call, saying “It’s up to us to change the conversation… That’s the job of all of us and it starts here… These conversations have to continue at the regional level. This is just the beginning. And it has to be a movement, and there has to be momentum, and it has to continue to the point where the pressure is real.” So let me also close by asking you to raise your voice. Help us walk the walk. Or as Maria Shriver put it, “We all have a story to tell, tell it.”

Lynette M. Fraga with Maria Shriver

One way to tell your state’s child care story is to share our 2014 State Fact Sheets with legislators and policymakers in your community. Child Care Aware® of America’s state fact sheets  provide data useful to child care advocates, policymakers, and program administrators as they make decisions around child care programs and expenditures in their state. The fact sheets look at the cost, use, and supply of child care in individual states, as well as family characteristics related to the need of child care, services provided by Child Care Resource and Referral agencies, and the child care workforce.

Visit usa.childcareaware.org  for the latest data on your state, or visit the workingfamiliessummit.org for more ways to get involved.

You can watch the President’s full remarks from the Summit below:

 

Summertime Child Care

Guest blog by Judy L. Francis, Communications and Marketing Associate, Child Care Aware® of America.

Summer is a beautiful season to spend extra quality time with the family, whether you’re planting flowers in the garden, going for a swim at your local pool, or flying across the country together to your favorite vacation spot.  But keeping children productive throughout summer vacation can seem like a difficult task. Research tells us that children who don’t engage in educational activities during summer vacation experience something called summer learning loss. According to the National Summer Learning Association, learning loss during the summer months can set children back nearly two months on their grade-level mathematical computation skills and low-income children can lose more than two months in reading achievement.

Children’s health can also suffer during the summer holiday. Unhealthy eating habits and inactivity can put children at a risk of weight gain and obesity. Unfortunately for most parents, the office doesn’t close when the weather gets warm. But there is a solution – a quality child care environment can keep children active and learning all summer long.

So for many families, the last months leading up to summer vacation mean a desperate search for a safe and educational setting where their child can spend 8- 10 hours a day. Get a jump on this year’s search and put your mind at ease early with these helpful tips below for finding quality summer child care.

Finding care

One of the easiest and most common ways parents find care is through word of mouth. Ask trusted friends and family members with children for their recommendations. Most people are happy to share their experiences and will give you their honest feedback on any persons or programs they’ve used. If your social circle has a lack of quality recommendations, you may want to place a call to the Child Care Aware toll-free hotline. A program of Child Care Aware® of America, Child Care Aware® helps families locate child care programs in their communities by referring them to their local Child Care Resource and Referral agency (CCR&R). Your local CCR&R will be able to connect you to a quality, licensed child care provider in your area.

What to look for

As with any search for child care, your priority will be the quality of the environment where your child will spend so much of their time. Schedule a time to stop by and see the school in action before you enroll. Make sure there is an adequate ratio of teachers to children. The lower the ratio, the more individual attention your child is likely to receive. Pay attention to how the adults interact with the children. Are they engaged and stimulated, or do the children look bored? Ask about the teachers’ qualifications. The more training and education they have in child development, the better they will be able to understand your child’s needs and help them learn.

If the program is summer-only and you are unable to visit an active center before enrollment, try to speak to the program director over the phone where you can discuss things like program accreditation, teacher turnover, average group size, and other important details.

Alternative Options

Another option you may want to consider is enrolling your child in a summer camp. Local day camps can be active and engaging learning environments, and are often a great way to get your child more involved in a specific interest or hobby. Day camp costs may also count as an expense towards the child care and depend care tax credit, saving you money on your tax bill at the end of the year.

Have a Back-up Plan

Once you’ve chosen the best option for your family, don’t forget about a back-up care plan. Even the most reliable child care providers may be unavailable in the case of an emergency, or may want to take time off during the summer months for their own vacations. Check with your provider to make sure you’re well aware of any time-off they plan to take, and take steps to make other arrangements in advance.

With a little planning, summer child care doesn’t have to be an annual burden. Summertime should be carefree, but that doesn’t mean pressing pause on your child’s healthy development. Do you have tips for creating a summer care plan? Share them in the comments.

PBS NewsHour on the Cost of Child Care

Last week PBS NewsHour aired a story about child care and featured three families whose stories represent millions of others in the United States today; the story of families who find it is sometimes more affordable not to work, than to pay for child care, and the quality of child care they can afford.

I sat down with PBS NewsHour for the broadcast as well. We are often contacted for  comments, facts and history on the rising costs of child care – but few stories capture the real point behind our Cost of Care reports; that child care is an economic and education issue that affects everyone.

The cost of child care is certainly financial news, but more importantly the cost of child care highlights how our nation’s child care system is preventing families from working because it’s simply too expensive and families don’t often know what they’re really getting for that price.  Instead of a child care system that empowers families to make a better life for them and their children, we have a child care system that is fragmented and frankly, in too many cases, simply unsafe.

This summer, Child Care Aware of America will release its annual Child Care in America State Fact Sheets. These reports lay bare the numbers beyond cost – availability, how families pay for child care, what states pay to subsidize child care and many more facts about working families today. We look forward to the dialogue.

Meanwhile, what did you think of the PBS NewsHour broadcast? Watch,  then comment below.

 

Quality Child Care gives Families Peace of Mind

Child care providers have a deep and resounding impact on the children and the families they serve. This Provider Appreciation Day, we asked parents to send in stories about the early learning professionals in their children’s lives and the positive impact they have had on their family. The responses were overwhelming. Below we’ve highlighted  a few to sharewith you today, as we celebrate and honor the teachers that care for our youngest learners.

Preschool children in classroom with teacher“I really enjoy Scaife Day Care. They have been providing my son with great care since he has been three months and now he is five years of age.” –Crystal Davis, Milwaukee, WI

“I would like to thank, recognize and express sincere gratitude for the care my daughter, and family as a whole receives from Mercy Cares for Kids, especially the staff in Infant 2, Karan, Alketa and Leah. These ladies take care of my child as if she were their own while I am at work, they take on the duties of ‘mommyhood’ and the respect, care and comfort they provide to me and my daughter is exceptional. Every day is planned with social, educational and developmental information. Taking on the task of playing a large role in raising someone else’s child is neither something that is easy to do, nor a job for everyone. It takes a special person to be respectful, competent and devoted to young children. My appreciation for the care they provide to my family could never be expressed through words, and in attending events and functions at the site, it is evident that the entire center encompasses these wonderful traits.” – Julianne Brown, Albany, NY

“I love [Cozy Care] and their values. When the owner Traci Poellnitz, told me how the nursery and daycare is about EDUCATION I couldn’t believe myself. I thought wow… these preschoolers are learning Arabic! I’m all about education so when I heard what they do, I thought, this is a no-brainer.” –Alex Spencer, Cincinnati, OH

“When my son was born, I spent the first year of his life being a stay at home mom. It was amazing and I loved every day of it! However, I did have to return to teaching the following year. It was very hard for me to leave my son. He started off at an in home daycare. Things just weren’t working out. Communication was horrible, and my son did not have a daytime routine/schedule. This is when my husband and I decided to try him at a learning center. We were VERY nervous at first. We didn’t know what to expect, and we didn’t know how our son would adjust. Well, it’s been almost 5 months now and we couldn’t be happier!! My son is receiving EXCEPTIONAL care at Fundamentals Early Learning Center, and is learning new things every day! He absolutely loves his teacher and all of his classmates. We spent all of last week on vacation, and all he talked about was his teacher back at school and his classmates. This made my husband and I extremely happy! We are so proud and thankful to be a part of the Fundamentals family! We appreciate them!! “ –Whitney Lewis, Central Louisiana

On Family Circle Learning Center
“Best child care my husband and I have experienced. The teachers are great with the kids. We trust that our babies are well taken care of away from us!! Thank you for loving our babies as much as we do.” –Sherri Armendariz, Renton, WA

“I write a testimonial every year. Lenora is a fantastic provider for all the children she cares for. I am going on my eighth year with my children in her care. Tomorrow she is taking them to the strawberry patch. She always does fun and education trips with the kids, so it makes it a special time for them to look back at when they are older.

Thanks so much for all that you do Lenora. You are appreciated more than you know. I (and my family) would not have made it the past 8 years without you!” –Holly Price, Durham, NC

Quality child care providers are education professionals. Working families get peace-of-mind when they know their child is in the care of a trusted, quality provider. They are an integral part of a family’s support system.  This Provider Appreciation Day, we urge you to not only celebrate the early educators in your life, but also to remember that their training and professional development directly impact the quality of care they are able to provide. It’s time to create a quality child care system that works for families and providers and pays a living wage to our child care professionals.

Provider Appreciation Day Logo

Beyond Appreciation…Gratitude for our Nation’s Child Care Providers

Editor’s note: In honor of Provider Appreciation Day, today’s post shares a personal account of how Lynette’s child care provider supported her son and family in a time of crisis.

It was a few days after my son’s second birthday. The day began, hurried as most and late as usual. I was doing my best to reach the office by 9AM.  I hadn’t quite mastered the art of juggling of work and parenthood (Do we ever? Perhaps that’s a question for another blog). But, I remember enjoying our time together after settling into the car for our 20 minute commute to his child care provider. It was our special time…talking and singing to our favorite music on the radio.

My search for a child care provider was typical of many….looking through lists, asking lots of questions, and trying to find the right person to partner with in the nurturing of my son while his father and I were at work.  With extended family on the opposite coast, we desperately needed and depended on the right person.  After two months, we found her.  The sleepless nights were over and I began to breathe again.

This particular morning went smoothly.  I arrived at her home, chatted a few minutes about how my son interacted the previous night and about our morning commute.  I gave him a big kiss good-bye and was off to the second phase of my trip to work.  I  enjoyed my daily ride on the Metro; it provided helpful transition time to recalibrate from being a mommy to a manager. Crossing the river from Virginia to DC was a symbolic bridge between family and work.

When I arrived to the office emotions were running high.  I had no idea what was going on.  A group of my colleagues were gathered around a workstation with the radio on.  There had been a plane; it hit a tower in Manhattan. Soon a plane would hit the Pentagon…very close to home.  It was about 9:20 AM,  September 11, 2001.

The rest of the day was a blur.  The phones weren’t working, and we couldn’t reach anyone.  The trains were shut down, and there was no way to get back across the river into Virginia.  There were rumors of more attacks, explosions, threats.  I couldn’t reach my son.  I couldn’t reach him…

After what seemed like days, I finally was able to reach her.  She was so calm, so reassuring.  “He’s fine, don’t worry,” she said. ” We are all playing and eating and we are fine.  He is safe and loved.”

At that moment, when I needed her most, when he needed her most, during one of the most challenging days in our nation’s history, my child care provider held both my son and I in her heart and in her arms.

I finally made it to her home and to my son several hours later.  He was happy, safe and sound. That night I put my son to bed squeezing him tight and holding him for hours.

I will always remember the feeling of not being able to reach him at a moment of crisis; to hold and protect him.  I will always be grateful for the woman who welcomed us into her home and family and who we welcomed into ours.

The effects of that September day lasted for weeks, months, and for many of us, for years. Now 14 years old, my son still talks about her. It is clear she made such an impact on him.  Mostly he remembers the nurturance, care and affection she provided him. For that I am forever grateful.

On this Provider Appreciation Day I hope everyone says a word of gratitude to the special child care provider in their life.  I still do!

Buzz on early childhood is good; progress still needed

Struggling to get out of poverty: The Two Generation Approach” tells on NPR, the story of two mothers who participate in Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Career Advance program. It’s one of at least three stories I’ve seen over the past week highlighting early education, the benefits and the costs.

Career Advance puts to practice the “two generation” approach to ending poverty, by providing quality early childhood experiences to children while at the same time supporting their parents’ economic advancement.

Starting education at age four is too late
NPR’s new education team also laid out some answers to the question; what is quality preschool?  The story does well to share the facts on early education in this country, and it also rightly, if not intentionally, highlights a huge gap in the way we think about early childhood education.   We need to ensure we consider the entire developmental continuum.  Preschool is important and we cannot forget about the babies.

Children learn from birth, and of the 1.1 million families who received child care referrals from child care resource and referral agencies in this country, more than half were for infants and toddlers.  Babies and toddlers must receive the same level of quality in child care as they should in preschool programs they enter at age four.

Or, as written in a 2011 Forbes article about George Kaiser: “Oklahoma, like a lot of places in America, has universal preschool, but it begins only at age 4, at which point many poor kids are so far behind their rich peers that they’ll never catch up. Early Head Start programs for infants and toddlers offer slots for only 3% of Tulsa’s 10,000 low-income kids, a rate similar to the national one.

‘Reaching 50% wouldn’t be impossible, at $30 billion per year,’ says Kaiser, except it would never happen because the dispossessed don’t have many lobbyists.’ ”

Parents pay costs of early education
The NPR story was also compelling because it also showed the depth of investment needed to achieve positive results. The program got off the ground thanks to support from The George Kaiser Family Foundation. The program is now funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. For most families, it’s the parents who pay for child care – quality or not.

Cost of Care graphic

Our “Parents and the High Cost of Child Care: 2013 Report”  generated more than 400 media stories across the country last fall and has seen a renewed interest following the Pew Research Center’s report on the increase in women opting out of the workforce to stay home with their children as well as a Washington Post story.

The question I get asked most often is why is child care so expensive? The simple answer is, running a quality program costs a lot of money, and in the business of early learning, the bulk of the cost is absorbed by the families.

The more important question is, what are we, or are we not, getting for that price? Are families getting quality care for their children? Families cannot do it alone. In the end, we all pay the cost for low investment and low quality for our children, even in health care.

The health connection
James Heckman, the Nobel laureate who made the economic case for early childhood investment,  recently released findings of a link between investments in quality early childhood programs and preventing chronic disease.

Professor Heckman and his colleagues continue to demonstrate through research that investments made early in quality early childhood programs prove to prevent challenges later in life. Watch the video about Heckman and his team’s research on chronic disease and early childhood programs.

We need to spread the word that early investments matter and quality child care programs have proven to have many beneficial outcomes for our children and their future.

Provider Appreciation
This Friday, May 9th is Provider Appreciation Day. As we seek solutions so that all families can access the opportunities inherent in quality child care we must also applaud and honor the providers of that care and the important work they do each day, in partnership with families, to nurture and prepare our nation’s children for school and beyond.

Will you commit to showing appreciation for those who are helping to raise a brighter future? Join us www.providerappreciationday.org

 

 

Provider Appreciation Day: A call for pay, preparation and promotion of our early childhood educators

Provider Appreciation Day Logo

May 9 is the day we celebrate our nation’s child care providers, early childhood educators and teachers. And while we celebrate, we also must reflect on how we acknowledge their commitment to children through pay, professional preparation, and promotion of the field as an essential driver supporting the healthy development of children.

Low pay, big responsibilities
We know child care providers don’t get paid a lot. But previous statistics like those from Georgetown University’s Center on Education which show an early childhood education degree among the least lucrative of all college majors, and the U.S. Department of Labor’s report that the median pay for child care providers was $9.30 per hour in 2012, still shock me.  It is so critical that our nation’s providers and early childhood educators get the professional preparation they want and deserve in the classroom, either through higher education or in professional preparation training programs.

Subsiding child care costs
Child care providers are essentially subsidizing the cost of child care with their paychecks.  Even with such low provider wages, families pay a lot for child care. Child care costs eat up a larger percent of a family’s budget – rocketing from two percent of the cost to raise a child in 1960 to 18 percent in 2012. Child care and education, not including college, costs families more than healthcare and food, according to a 2013 U.S. Department of Agriculture report on the cost of raising a child.  Our cost of child care report showed the average cost of child care for an infant was higher than a year’s tuition and fees at a four-year public college.  Two children in child care? That can cost you more than a mortgage in 19 states and Washington D.C.

Quality suffers
But the biggest loser in this low pay and high cost equation is quality. Studies and stories have proven that quality costs money and that quality is worth the upfront investment, returning at a rate of as much as 15 percent, according to economist James Heckman. Supporting our early childhood providers and educators with a living wage and professional ongoing support is essential to delivering quality as well. When child care providers leave the profession because of low pay, the turnover affects a child’s education, and we lose great educators.

Solutions
One solution to a quality child care system that supports child care providers and families would be to diversify the financial support for child care so all children can access quality care no matter their family’s ability to pay.

Join us in honoring those who teach, nurture and care for our children on May 9, and remember they too need our support all year round.  What other solutions would you suggest?

 

Let’s Move! Child Care Celebrates 3rd Anniversary—Sign Up and Take the Quiz Today!

Editor’s Note: This is a special announcement from our partners at Let’s Move! Child Care. 

This June marks the 3rd anniversary of Let’s Move! Child Care and we’re having a special drawing to give away classroom toolkits sponsored by Nemours, a child health system. These toolkits are full of kid-friendly physical activity materials that can be used in classrooms with children ages 2-5.

Early Care and Education providers who sign up and take the checklist quiz between June 1st and June 13th will have their names entered into the drawing for a chance to win a toolkit. By signing up, you can join the nearly 13,000 child care providers who have committed to working towards the Initiative’s best practices for healthy nutrition, physical activity, breastfeeding support, and screen time. Watch this video to see how it all began.

Getting started is simple. Signing up and participating are free.
To enter the drawing, visit http://www.HealthyKidsHealthyFuture.org between June 1st and June 13th to sign up and take the Let’s Move! Child Care Checklist Quiz. You will receive a participation certificate, have access to free tools and resources, and the checklist quiz can help your program build an action plan to start meeting the Let’s Move! Child Care best practices. There’s also plenty of information and tools on the website for parents to help their children learn healthy habits.

Sign up today and take the quiz to become a recognized Let’s Move! Child Care provider!

If you are already registered and have taken the quiz, send us your success stories!  Send your story to LMCCStories@cdc.gov with the subject line “LMCC 3rd Anniversary” by May 28, 2014. Entries should be no longer than 500 words. Be sure to include a contact name, phone number, and e-mail address.

Thanks so much for your support and hard work to ensure young children grow up healthy!

The Let’s Move! Child Care Team

Additional Resources from Child Care Aware® of America

Suggested Tweets:

@letsmove Child Care turns 3 in June. Learn how you can celebrate and win! #RYH4ChildCare

Are you signing up for the @letsmove Child Care drawing? #RYH4ChildCare

Child Care providers can help children build healthy habits. Learn more @letsmove Child Care

Links:
Let’s Move! Child Care with Child Care Aware® of America

Full text, Ann O’Leary’s opening keynote at 2014 Symposium

This blog is republished from the Next Generation blog dated April 2.

NOTE: The remarks below were delivered by Ann O’Leary on April 2, 2014 when she opened the 2014 Child Care Aware of America Symposium on early education policy, research, and practice. 

_SB11777Child Care Aware America 3.02.14 Barrett

Thank you Lynette for inviting me here today and to the California Child Care Resource and Referral Network, led by Linda Asato, for encouraging me to join you.  And thank you to Linda Smith for your leadership inside the government to make quality child care a priority.

Lynette told you a bit about my professional background, but let me tell you how my professional background aided me in being a mother and a child care consumer.

In 1997, just after the Child Care Development Block Grant was last updated, I started working on education, early learning and childcare policy in the Clinton Administration.  It was such an exciting time because it was when we were learning about how rapidly the brain was growing in the first years of life and how much these early years really mattered.  I personally learned at that time about the importance of talking to your baby from the earliest days and about how challenging it was for parents to get access to high-quality child care.

Ten years later – in 2007 – I had my first child.  And it was these professional credentials that had me calling up child care providers to get on the wait list just after telling my friends and family the news that I was expecting.  I remember going to the National Education of Young Children (NAEYC’s) website to find which child care centers in my area were NAEYC certified.

The former director of the infant/toddler program at my chosen preschool in Berkeley still tells the story of me showing up at her doorstep every day when I was nine+ months pregnant to find out if I’d be able to get off the wait list.  She finally was so worried that I was showing up at her doorstep every day instead of getting some rest before the baby came, that she relented and gave me a spot.  My daughter, now seven, was lucky to be able to attend the school for five years and my son, who is four years old, is still there.

Everything about my experience is something I wish for all parents.  To be able to search online for a quality child care center and really know that licensing or certification means something.  It means that the center is safe, the child care providers are professionals who have real training to work with young children, and that together you’ll be able to work as a team to support your child’s development and early learning.

But I also want families to benefit from some of the things that schools don’t offer, but that states should provide to families as child care consumers. States should do unannounced inspections so that they can find small and larger things for the school to correct—from ensuring that parents really do sign in and sign out our children, to ensuring that the school has appropriate safeguards on all the doors so that children can’t get out without an adult.

Together, the school—with its amazing focus on child-centered learning and the scaffolding children need to develop in these early years—and the basic promises made to ensure that licensing means my child will be safe while my husband and I are at work, is what every parent deserves.

Everyone needs and deserves minimum levels of safety and quality standards.  And YOU are making sure that is happening.  I applaud you wholeheartedly for what you have done to ensure passage of the Child Care Development Block Grant in the Senate and the work you are doing in the House to make these critical changes the law of the land.

CHALLENGES

When we started Too Small to Fail, which is a joint initiative of Next Generation and the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation aimed at improving the health and wellbeing of our youngest children, we really looked hard at what we know about children today and what we knew about the investments needed to address the challenges faced by children.

We were motivated by three big challenges:

  1. That we have a changing demographic in America that makes the educational achievement gap between minorities and whites no longer just a civil rights issue, but an issue that must be addressed as an economic imperative;
  2. That more than a quarter of our children—which is a doubling from the early 1990s—now have a chronic health condition from asthma to autism to obesity.
  3. That despite important investments in poverty alleviation, we still have persistently high childhood poverty and poverty still remains that best indicator of a child’s educational success.

But we were also incredibly motivated by what we saw as a tipping point moment in the early learning field.  Because today, we know more than ever about the importance of early education.

Brain scientists have documented what we have long intuited: talking, hugging, singing, and playing build critical hardware in a baby’s brain.

Leading economists tell us that investments in the early years provide a tremendous return. The likelihood of a child achieving success in school and in the workforce is largely set before her first day of kindergarten.

We have better and more sophisticated ways of reaching parents than every before thanks to technology and behavioral science.

WORD GAP

We were also very struck by the important new research coming from Harvard University Professor Robert Putnam. Dr. Putnam is studying today how economic pressures on parents translate into less time and support for kids who start off behind and struggle to catch up.  In the 1960s and ‘70s, parents with different income and educational achievement levels were all spending similar amounts of time reading to their children, but over time, a gap emerged.  Dr. Putnam and his team have looked at what they call “Diaper Time,” when parents address the immediate needs of their young children, and they’ve also looked at what they call “Good Night Moon Time,” when they talk, read, and interact with their kids.

Now the research shows that nearly everyone does Diaper Time. But parents with lower income, less education, who struggle to work two jobs with few benefits or flexibility—many of them single moms, and parents without strong support networks—they are spending significantly less Good Night Moon Time each day than more affluent families and less than parents in comparable positions did 30 and 40 years ago.  This lost time adds up.

You all know that children build their vocabularies by listening to and interacting with their parents and caregivers, and by age four, children from low income families with less Good Night Moon Time have learned, on average, half as many words as children from middle and upper income families, so that by the time they enter school, they have substantially smaller vocabularies than many of their classmates.  Experts call this the “word gap.”

Studies have found that by a child’s fourth birthday, children in well-off families have heard 30 million more words than children from lower-income families. This disparity in hearing words from parents and caregivers translates directly into a disparity in learning words.  In fact, on average, higher income four-year-olds know an average of 1100 words compared to just 500 words for lower-income children.

This research has been replicated and strengthened in recent years by Professor Anne Fernald at Stanford University who has shown that not only is there a word gap, but that there is already a gap in language comprehension of six months by the time a child is two years old.  And we know from another Stanford Professor – Sean Reardon – that this early gap in learning is the best predictor for the persistent educational achievement gap in the K-12 system.

And that puts our children born with the fewest advantages even further behind.

So we decided to focus our Too Small to Fail efforts on closing the word gap.  But to close the gap, you have to understand the barriers.  There are two large barriers:

First, many low-income parents and caregivers are simply not aware of the importance of talking directly to their babies and toddlers to build their brains and prepare them for later learning and good health outcomes.

Time and again, we have heard parents express surprise when told that by talking, reading, and singing to their babies from birth, they can actually build up their child’s vocabulary and help develop their brain.

We have an enormous opportunity to empower parents and help them understand how their simple actions can have a large impact.

Our goal is to help parents integrate talking, reading, and singing into their everyday routine with their children – just as they would brush their child’s teeth before bed.

The campaign is focused on examples of simple actions – talking during bath time, telling a story while changing a diaper, singing in the car, playing peek-a-boo – that can help prepare children for academic success.

This is why a strong partnership between families and child care providers is so critical. Parents look for information about their children’s well-being from family, friends, and trusted sources such as pediatricians and child care providers.  We need your help to close this gap.

I just got back from Tulsa, OK, where we launched our first local campaign called “Talking is Teaching.” (You can watch a video of the event here.)

 

We are partnering with local community organizations —engaging pediatricians, business leaders, librarians and others—to empower parents and caregivers to boost young children’s brain development and build their vocabularies by increasing the number of words they hear spoken to them every day.

According to recent field research conducted among low-income parents, grandparents and other caregivers in Tulsa, approximately 90 percent recognize that they personally have an impact on their child’s brain development.  Yet, many of those surveyed admit that they could be doing more on a daily basis to help their children increase their vocabulary:

  • Only 55 percent of parents and 47 percent of grandparents report reading to their children every day.
  • Fewer than half report telling their children a story, singing a song or playing a non-electronic game every day.

Our “Talking is Teaching” campaign will show how simple actions—like describing objects seen on a bus ride, singing songs, or telling stories for just five minutes—can significantly improve a baby’s ability to learn new words and concepts.

Creative messages will appear as ads on public buses, billboards, grocery carts and in places where Tulsa families congregate.

Community partners will talk directly to parents and caregivers using family toolkits developed with Sesame Workshop; and to pediatricians using clinical toolkits on early literacy developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

The campaign will also test new technology developed by the Bezos Family Foundation that will help parents remember to build these activities into their daily lives.

We hope that our work in Tulsa will serve as a model for other communities across the country to motivate increased talking, reading and singing to babies and toddlers. And Too Small to Fail will launch additional campaigns in several more cities this year.

In addition, we are working to magnify attention to the word gap through media partnerships with Univision and show integration with Hollywood.

But we know that the second reason for the word gap, is that there is simply a lack of access to high-quality child care and preschool.  With parents working, we simply cannot afford not to invest in high-quality child care that is available from infancy onward.

Just the other day I was driving home after picking up my children and my son, who just turned four, started kicking the back of my seat and laughing and then he yelled “AVALANCHE.” And I asked him how he knew the word avalanche.  He told me that he had heard it in a book his teacher read him at school.

There has to be a continuum and a partnership between parental action and high quality child care and this takes real public investments.

In 1971, the year I was born, President Richard Nixon famously declared that universal child care would have “family-weakening implications” as he wielded his veto pen to block a universal child care bill passed by Congress.

We may look back on this moment with disbelief, but at the time – it really was a close call for America with real divisions about whether women should work outside the home. Those conversations may still occur among the elite, but nearly everyone else is working.

Today, over 70 percent of families are headed by two working parents or a single working parent – compared to under 40 percent in the early 1970s.

Unfortunately, President Nixon’s veto of universal child care became the last best chance for decades for the federal government to support working moms and dads trying to raise their children and earn a living at the same time.

We are here because today is FINALLY our moment to make greater access to child care and early childhood education a reality.

FUTURE VISION

While we have made progress, it is clear that we need more of our leaders to fully embrace early learning as central to the future of our children and our economy.

The Senate’s recent passage of the Child Care Development Block Grant bill is a great step in the right direction – and with such a strong, bipartisan vote! The President is using his bully pulpit to push for change.  But it is up to us to make it happen.   And it will truly take all of us.

If we set our sights on a vision that includes these three principles, I believe we will be able to fully support families to help children thrive in the early years and beyond:

1. We need a common understanding of the importance of early child development

  • All Americans should have a deep appreciation of the importance of brain development of very young children – not just among advocates and researchers, but among grocery store managers, elementary school administrators, public transit operators, and governors.
  • I believe that understanding will lead to more family interaction that supports children. It will lead to workplace changes that support families. And it will lead to federal policies that better support our child care providers.

2.  We need more training for those who care for infants and toddlers

  • There must be a much greater support system to provide training and guidance to all who provide care and teach our youngest children, including parents.
  • Throughout training, care givers should hear about the importance of talking, singing, hugging, and playing, as a critical component of brain development and life-long learning.

3.  We need a robust, high-quality system of infant and toddler care

  • The United States must distinguish itself as a country that values quality learning for young children, as evidenced by high quality child care centers.
  • Parents, providers, and policymakers should develop a common, evidence-based definition of quality. Families should be able to enroll their young children in programs with confidence. And state- and federally-funded reimbursement rates should reward high quality programs.
  • Low-income families should have the same range of choice as upper and middle-class families, so that their children can also receive the type of support that is best for them.

To get there, we must start with a clear vision and set of convictions: our country can and should take a stand on early learning and development. Through thoughtful and collaborative work, we can continue a nationwide conversation about these issues.

That is why it is so critical that you have all travelled here to DC to share your message with our legislators. But you must carry the message back home with you as well.

Conversations about early development belong in every doctor’s office, place of worship, grocery store, and barbershop. Only when communities are reminded and convinced of the long-term gains made when we invest in young children will our politicians respond.

So I hope you will join us in partnership at http://www.toosmall.org to work together on closing the word gap and creating an early learning nation.

 

Ann O’Leary is vice president and director of the children and families program for Next Generation,  which includes spearheading “Too Small to Fail”—Next Generation’s joint initiative with the Clinton Foundation to help parents and businesses take meaningful actions to improve the health and well-being of children ages zero to five.  

Recap all of the 2014 Symposium.

2014 Symposium – Day 2 and 3

Recap Day 1: 2014 Symposium Kicks off to Great Start

Day 2
Thursday began early when Senators Barbara Mikulski and Richard Burr were honored during breakfast with the Working for Working Families Award, kicking off day two of the Child Care Aware® of America 2014 Symposium.

Burr attended breakfast with symposium attendees to receive the award, where he offered this:

Burr 2014 Symposium Award 2“I’d like to make this challenge,” he said. “I’m not going to wait 20 years to reauthorize [the Child Care and Development Block Grant] again. My challenge to you is to begin as soon as this bill becomes law, to figure out what changes need to be made so a long time in advance we can look at how to enhance the outcome of the next generation.”

 

He closed with thanks to the Child Care Resource and Referral community, “There’s one thing I’m certain of,” he said. “We can make an impact on the lives and futures of my children and grandchildren, and yours. And for that, I’m here to say thank you.”

Symposium group photo 2014Day on the Hill
Attendees from all over the country met with their congressional members that afternoon. Starting with a celebratory photo, they returned to Symposium having made more than 347 visits with members of congress.

“It was really exciting to go to the Hill and talk about why early childhood is so important and hear why they believed it was important as well,” said one attendee, Caroline, who came to Symposium from Florida.

#RYH4ChildCare
Those hill visits helped everyone move significantly closer to the 1K for Kids goal, bringing the total actions taken for children through social media over the first two days of Symposium to more than 800. By the end of Symposium, attendees and virtual participants had sent more than 1,500 social media actions, letters, visits and donations on behalf of children.

_SB12263Child Care Aware America reception Barrett 3.03.14 _1Evening reception and awards
That evening, during a reception filled with dinner and dessert, we honored Congressman George Miller (D-CA) and Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) with Lifetime Achievement Awards for all of their work on behalf of children during their careers.

"Children deserve quality, no matter where they receive their care," Dr. Myra Jones-Taylor

“Children deserve quality, no matter where they receive their care,” Dr. Myra Jones-Taylor

 

Day 3
We couldn’t have picked a better closing keynote speaker than Dr. Myra Jones-Taylor, Executive Director for Connecticut’s Office of Early Childhood. She received a standing ovation for her talk about innovating for the future of children and families, and for supporting the value that we must make the child care system work for families.

 

Symposium Carol gavel 2014

 

Annual Meeting
The annual meeting included a farewell from Michael Olenick. He concluded his term as board president of Child Care Aware® of America and handed the gavel to Dr. L. Carol Scott, CEO of Child Care Aware® of Missouri.

The Raising of America
Symposium Raising of America panelSymposium ended with a special screening of the forthcoming documentary, The Raising of America.

The film explores how a strong start for all children leads not only to better individual life course outcomes (learning, earning and physical and mental health) but also to a healthier, safer, better educated and more prosperous and equitable America.

After the screening, Dr. Jones-Taylor joined a discussion panel that included Matthew Melmed, Executive Director of ZERO TO THREE; and Dr. Renee Boynton-Jarrett, Associate Professor  of Pediatrics, Boston University School of Medicine, who also appeared in the film.

Dr. Boynton-Jarrett, a mom of three, thanked the attendees saying, “I wouldn’t be doing this work if I didn’t have child care providers who made us  comfortable and confident in their care.”

Matthew urged attendees to create local movements to support the discussions about early childhood that the film will generate. “The film does a great job of making the case between early education and inter-generational transitions,” he said. “If we can get the broader world to understand this, we can make a difference. We need public investment to make change.”

Dr. Jones-Taylor spoke to the role of families, “How do we help raise the voice of parents, understanding they are very busy? The child care system must work ultimately, for them.”

Dr. Boynton-Jarrett closed the discussion paying respect to those early childhood educators who help all of us on our education journey, “We must do better giving credit to early childhood educators for helping children succeed long term.”

What was your favorite moment from the 2014 Symposium? We’d love to hear it in the comments below.

Thank you to all our attendees, sponsors and presenter s who made the 2014 Symposium one of our best year’s ever. Stay tuned for more!

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