In this election season, American voters are once again divided over the role of government. On the one hand, leading Democratic candidates for President are promising major expansions of government. On the other, leading Republican front runners are proposing more limits. These debates tend to center on contentious issues, such as taxation and health care. Below the headline-grabbing flashpoints of these debates are broadly-accepted roles for government that cross partisan lines, including supports for families of young children and early learning programs.
In 2015, for the first time in nearly two decades, the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) was reauthorized by strong bipartisan majorities in the U.S. Congress. CCDBG does many things, but it especially supports low-income, working families with child care vouchers. In Indiana, these vouchers, called CCDF vouchers, support tens of thousands of young children. In fact, in 2014, nearly 60,000 Hoosier children were afforded an early learning or afterschool opportunity thanks to CCDF.
If you are a taxpayer, you might be asking, is this money well-spent? Who is making sure? And that leads us to the role of child care resource and referral agencies.
Often called CCR&R agencies, child care resource and referral agencies are staffed by experts in early childhood. Their core job is to ensure that families get connected to early learning programs that meet their needs, early childhood professionals possess core knowledge necessary to keep children safe, healthy and happy, and, programs have opportunities to improve through coaching and other supports. Just as the field of early childhood has evolved, they changed over the past decade to do much, much more. In Indiana, they support the state’s quality rating system for parents, called, Paths to QUALITY. They have developed specialized knowledge in infant/toddler care and inclusion of children with disabilities. They work with local early childhood coalitions to build up local commitment and coordination.
Indiana is blessed with a particularly strong and vibrant CCR&R system. There are nine local nonprofit agencies that span the state and encompass over 100 dedicated professionals. They work every day to improve the lives of young children and families.
It is the people in the CCR&R system that make it work, but they exist in a system that reflects government at its best.
Government works best when expertise is matched with local knowledge. Indiana CCR&R’s are staffed by folks with Bachelors and Masters degrees in early childhood and child development, but they don’t do work in a vacuum—they are locally-rooted. There are offices in Evansville, Ft. Wayne, Lafayette, Terre Haute and many other parts of the state. And, they are in constant communication and engagement with families, early learning program directors and local officials.
Government works best when it doesn’t focus narrowly on one target population, but cares for and services a broader interest. Yes, CCR&R agencies care deeply about families who receive CCDF vouchers and their children, but they have a mandate to serve ALL young children and families. Regardless of income, any Hoosier family or community can partner with their local CCR&R. From Social Security to the Centers for Disease Control, government agencies that take the big view, work best. They tend to think more holistically and generate a broader base of support.
Government works best when programs are goal-driven. CCR&R agencies are highly-accountable. They are metric-driven. Each local agency sets goals for family outreach, Paths to QUALITY advancement and training hours delivered. They use and share a wealth of data to inform policy and practice. And, they are increasingly evolving to become a learning network focused on continuous quality improvement.
We are proud at Early Learning Indiana to manage one of the nine local CCR&R agencies—Child Care Answers—the CCR&R for Indianapolis and six Indiana counties. And, we are proud to be negotiating a new opportunity where we will have the privilege to support all nine local agencies and their effectiveness, as well as to directly work with families and influential decision-makers. We approach this work with a deep well of respect and appreciation for those who have come before us, including, the Indiana Association for Child Care Resource and Referral, who will be closing their doors on April 30th of this year.
The work goes on. More children need access to high-quality settings, including children subsidized by CCDF. More programs need to improve their quality, so we can be assured children are not just safe from 9 to 5, but learning and developing to their full potential. More Indiana communities, business leaders, schools, lawmakers and others need to hear about and witness the power of early learning. We need more funding and more investment in early learning to reach more children.
CCR&R cannot do all that alone, but it can—and has—done a lot to influence the conversation.
Spread the word. CCR&R is government at its best.
To learn more and get connected to your local CCR&R agency, please go here.
Kent Mitchell is Early Learning Indiana’s Vice President of Outreach & Partnerships. He partners with other team members on partnership, outreach, and federal grant efforts and oversees the Partnerships for Early Learners campaign.
Photo credit: flickr user Marlie, licensed under Creative Commons.