Kids Count Part 2: Education for our future

Most of us agree that all children should have access to safe, affordable and high-quality early childhood care and education. During this critical period, children grow and learn more than at any other time in their lives. By investing in quality experiences for young children, we can increase a child’s opportunities to develop - intellectually, socially and emotionally. Early experiences create the foundation upon which a child’s future success and productivity are built. Whether receiving care in a home-based or center-based program, children require a high quality, nurturing environment. Young children who receive quality care increase their chances of achieving success in adulthood. This investment in early childhood is a critical part of ensuring children grow up to become effective and valued members of our society.Head Start and Early Head Start Head Start and Early Head Start are federally-funded programs that provide comprehensive services in child development. Health and wellness, nutrition, and social services to support low-income families who have infants, toddlers and preschool children are part of the programs. Head Start serves preschool-age children, while Early Head Start focuses on children from birth to age 3. There are currently 27 children enrolled in the Broken Bow Head Start and Early Head Start programs. National research has shown that both children and parents benefit from Early Head Start and Head Start programs. Three-year-olds who participated in Early Head Start performed significantly better on a range of measures of cognitive, language and social-emotional development than a randomly assigned control group. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, many grants were awarded to create new and expand existing Early Head Start programs across the country. In Nebraska, eight different agencies were awarded grants to expand current Early Head Start programs, including Central Nebraska Community Services. The eight agencies received in total more than $9 million of additional federal funding through these grants. The grant money has already had a significant impact as many agencies were able to increase the number of Early Head Start participants and serve more children and families. Central Nebraska Community Services used funding to enroll an additional 34 participants in its programs. According to data compiled by Voices for Children in Nebraska, there were 661 children under the age of 5 in Custer County in 2009. At that time there were 2,846 children under the age of 19, and 134 minority children in the county. Despite its successes, Early Head Start programs still face many challenges such as lack of adequately paid staff or incapacity to provide more intensive services for all families in need. Additional funding, such as that provided by Early Head Start Expansion Grants, is essential in addressing these challenges. As budget cuts loom for Nebraska, it is imperative to keep in mind the importance of these programs and fight for their continued existence and development. Investing in early childhood programs ensures that all children have a strong foundation in which to develop socially and intellectually, and is a sound investment in the safety and productivity of our society.