For those of us who want to expand learning opportunities for children and families, the numbers can feel a bit staggering. Two of every three children from birth to five years old in Indiana require care because their families are in the labor force. That’s a total of 334,372 children who, each day, are learning and growing away from a parent’s view. Currently, only 32 percent of all known early care and education programs in Indiana demonstrate a high level of quality. Several Hoosier counties have little to no available quality care for our smallest learners.
As the facts demonstrate, high-quality care is a widespread need in Indiana. Consistent early education opportunities both provide child care for working families and prepare children for future success in school and in life. Issues in child care are common for working Indiana families. One in six Hoosier families has had to turn down, change, or quit a job in the past year due to inadequate care. Early education is also one of our greatest opportunities for building the pre-academic and social skills that children need to be successful in school.
I have had the privilege of visiting many communities over the past several months. On these visits I got to meet with providers and community members and learn more about the early education landscape at the local level.
These conversations have strengthened my belief that building the capacity of quality, affordable early education programs is multi-faceted, complex work. But they have also reinforced my sense of urgency to build that capacity, because we must do a better job addressing the needs of our Indiana families. There are two common themes in these conversations: parents/community members must first demand quality early education AND it must be affordable for families.
What does this mean for the Early Learning Indiana’s Partnerships for Early Learners work as we move towards our goal of adding 1,000 quality early education seats by 2020? To me, it means we must be intentional about increasing the demand alongside the supply. Part of our campaign is to assist and empower our partners across the state to advocate within their local and regional communities for the importance of quality early education. A common language around early education is important and necessary as well as building a sense of collective responsibility for our children.
Affordability of quality early education may also be tied to building parent and community demand for an increase in quality choices for early education, however high-quality care is indisputably expensive. This is true even for middle and high-middle income families. We will continue our work in creating additional quality seats while exploring ways to support providers in meeting the needs of the families—financial or otherwise.
Rather than see these issues as barriers, I see them as a reminder to our campaign to work on expansion thoughtfully, strategically, and most importantly, in partnership with early education professionals and champions across the state. We will continue to seek guidance from these partners and hope to build on the existing momentum with fidelity to quality and strong advocacy for families.
I feel fortunate to be working in early education at such an exciting time for our state. We have more state-funded options for pre-K than ever before. Early Learning Indiana has been working alongside the state to supplement state funds for providers looking to expand and to move up the state’s quality rating system, Paths to Quality.
In the last month, I have been busy supporting our latest opportunity to fund the expansion of quality programs to add more seats that can serve families (you can read more about it here – applications are due Monday, December 14). This too has given me the opportunity to speak with many people across the state. These individuals represent schools and early care and education providers who are excited about the availability of funding, but more importantly share a passion for our youngest learners. I look forward to continuing my capacity building work with providers and playing a small role in the state’s effort to increase access to quality early education in our state.
Holly Hilton-Dennis is Partnerships for Early Learners’ Manager of Statewide Partnerships. Her work focuses on building statewide capacity and increasing access to quality early care and education programs in Indiana.
Cover image by Flickr user Trey Holliday, Creative Commons license.