Across the country, municipal and community leaders are recognizing that providing affordable quality child care and early-learning programs are critical elements of promoting social mobility for families and preparing kids for the future.
This concept of "dual generational child care" focuses on "helping parents gain stability in jobs and income while ensuring that children have a high-quality space in which to learn when their parents are at their jobs," according to Lisa Guernsey, director of the Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation. "This is a critical approach to not only making sure that children are getting what they need, but that their families are getting what they need as well."
So how do communities accomplish these goals, especially in the face of shrinking federal funding and other resources?
That was the topic of Thursday's discussion at the foundation, which focused on innovations undertaken by local municipalities and communities nationwide to improve child care and work-force development. The forum, presented at the foundation's Washington, D.C., offices and online, brought together organizations and providers who are working on the frontlines of these issues.
"Folks are looking at and thinking about what makes a city healthy. Having a strong, quality early-education center is at the top of that list," said Tonja Rucker, principal associate of the National League of Cities. "We know that having a strong and innovative set of early care and education policies contributes to the overall productivity of a community. It really does attract businesses to the community. It provides a strong economic base and most importantly it promotes health and well-being for young children and families."
Some of the innovations underway include efforts to ramp up the quality of child care by aligning curriculum and improving instructional practices of early-learning programs, providing comprehensive intervention and social services for families in "one-stop" hubs, and focusing attention on workforce development.
In Florida's Palm Beach County, for example, the Children's Services Council leverages local tax dollars to operate its Full Services Community Schools project, which brings social service agencies to local elementary schools, provides quality child care and after care and tries to act as a pipeline for families starting with promoting healthy births.
Rucker noted that the National League of Cities is working with city governments and community leaders to "ensure that quality early education is on the radar." These leaders can help set a vision and goals by working with key partners and stakeholders and building political will to provide comprehensive programs and services, she said.
"Folks are on the front end of this. There's a long ways to go," Rucker said. "Aligning education, providing quality--there's a lot of layers to this and city leaders know they cannot do it by themselves. So with partnering with key stakeholders, we're looking to move the needle and make sure that all children and families maximize their full potential."