Investing in comprehensive and meaningful programs for California’s youngest children gives them the best chance to become successful adults and contributing members of society. But all too often, in the urgency to serve the most children, we don’t pay enough attention to the quality of care children are receiving, and if child development benefits accrue.
That’s a problem. If we really care about all children, then we must create the conditions for all children to have experiences that matter.
Quality in programs for kids means using every opportunity to help them learn and grow. When children show curiosity and joy in their surroundings you know they feel safe and eager to explore the world around them. But unfortunately, while access to early childhood programs in California has increased, access to quality programming varies across our state.
Representing a foundation that has been working on early childhood issues for decades, and as a professional who has dedicated my adult life to the wellbeing of young children, I’m excited about Gov. Gavin Newsom’s commitment to making sure every child born in California has the support, care and learning opportunities to thrive and achieve their potential. Gov. Newsom has made early childhood his signature issue and his most recent budget proposal shows that commitment.
California has a strong foundation to build on. In the last decade, local communities in California, with the support of philanthropy and their state and local First 5 commissions, have been building models for serving parents, families, friends and neighbors who care for children as well as teachers and childcare professionals. Today, California has a unique opportunity to build on lessons learned from these models and bring quality care to children across the state through:
- A system of paid family leave and home visiting so that all new families can bond with their babies and spend time nurturing their children’s development.
- A system of high-quality pre-kindergarten for all children across the state, regardless of a family’s income or the neighborhood they live in. Thankfully, school districts across the state have been hard at work identifying best practices, like the communities in Oakland, Fresno and San Jose who are part of Starting Smart and Strong. In these communities, the school districts receive flexible funding and technical support to build community-owned, tailored approaches to pre-kindergarten programs that work best for their own unique structures and challenges. California can learn from what these and other community-wide efforts are discovering about how to create a quality pre-kindergarten system.
- A system of developmental screenings for all children. It is essential to ensure children are routinely monitored for how they are developing behaviorally and emotionally — not just physically — and to make a plan for how to address unique challenges before they get harder to tackle down the line. To this end, we have recently partnered with leading funders to find ways that regular visits to the pediatrician can include behavioral and emotional screenings.
- A well-trained, well-supported workforce of caregivers. This includes educated childcare professionals and teachers with access to ongoing training, as well as providing caregivers — including parents, family, friends, and neighbors — with resources that can help them ensure that every interaction with their child nurtures his or her development. Gov. Newsom’s commitment to a one-time investment in the childcare workforce is a good start, and I hope this leads to further, sustained support down the line that is so crucial to securing a lasting impact.
Every year, California welcomes approximately half a million newborns. While philanthropy and advocates have made some important progress in the last decade, there is a lot more to be done. We must ensure that quality is a part of the conversation if we want the care we provide for all of our children to be meaningful, lasting and impactful.
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