— Originally published in FLL#36 • Written by Aimee Ketchum
Since we are living in such a politically charged environment right now with the primaries looming over us, I thought I would take this time to get on my soap box and push my own political agenda. As a mom and pediatric occupational therapist, I am concerned about the lack of regulated early child development programs in the United States.
It’s been proven over and over how vital a child’s first few years are to laying the groundwork for an entire lifetime of productive learning and healthy development. As a country, we are falling short. We do not have one organized program for early childhood education. We have hundreds of unregulated programs and different states are providing services at uneven rates. Inequalities exist by economic status, race, and geography. 62 percent of children are enrolled in preschool in New Jersey for example, while only 30 percent of Nevada children go to any kind of preschool.
Millions of children spend 40 or more hours per week in daycares and they are falling short as well. Only 39 states have any federal regulation for daycares and only 44 percent of people working in daycares nationwide have a high school degree, with only 17 percent having a college degree. Basically, to carry the responsibility of caring for and teaching our children, the future of our country, all that is required is that you be 16 years old and free of tuberculosis!
Most programs are unstandardized and even Headstart allocations vary greatly from state to state. New York allocated 468 million last year, while Maine, only 28 million.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, about four million children enter kindergarten every year. Working with kindergarteners in Pennsylvania, Brooklyn, and Louisiana, I have seen some kids start school with great motor, social, and emotional skills, and I have seen kindergarteners come to school still drinking out of a sippy cup. There is a huge disparity of skills, even right here among children in our community. Studies from the U.S. Department of Education have shown that some children who come from low-income families actually start kindergarten 12 to 14 months behind their peers in pre-literacy and language skills. That is a huge disparity and so unfair to these young children!
Across the nation, six out of ten four year olds are not enrolled in any type of publically funded preschool program, and even fewer are enrolled in higher quality programs. Vital early skills are being missed.
In President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union Address, he called upon congress to expand access to high quality preschool for every child in America. In December of 2014, Obama convened policy makers, advocates, school personnel, and community leaders in the White House Summit on Early Education, announcing a collective investment of over one billion dollars in early learning. This sounds like a tremendous amount of money, but the return will be even more tremendous.
Research suggests that this investment will provide benefits to society of roughly $8.60 to every dollar spent. The summit proposes a Preschool For All initiative, boosting of quality child care, and support for parents who choose to enrich their children at home through the Maternal, Infant, and Child Home Visiting Program. There are lots of exciting propositions on the table and we are moving in the right direction. I just hope that whoever steps in after Obama keeps the ball rolling, because we cannot afford to let any more time slip by when the future of our youngest Americans is at risk.