At the top, but still lagging: early child care in Alabama

By Amy Sedlis, Childcare Resources Board of Directors Member

**A shorter version of this blog post was featured in the “Your View” section of the Birmingham News on 4/17/2012.

The Birmingham News’ April 10th front page story on Alabama’s First Class pre-K program was appropriately positioned – right there in the headlines – sharing in the recognition of Alabama’s stellar 4-year old state funded Pre-K known as First Class.

Yet, like many other state funded programs First Class faces dire funding challenges. The News quickly praised Alabama for its excellence the past 6 years in which First Class has met or exceeded 10 national quality benchmarks. However, the ongoing struggle is to find enough funding to provide all 4-year old children with the same excellent learning opportunities.

We have seen, read and know that early care and education funding is neither a democrats nor republican issue. Pre K (and one would be remiss to leave out infants and toddler programming) has the potential to change the education conversation in Alabama and nationwide. Alabama’s commitment to children cannot fall to the wayside.  In fact, Alabama has an obligation to find ways to help more families as incomes and jobs are in danger.

Programming is only one part of the early care and education system. Training and continuing education for child care providers is another crucial piece of the pie.  Providing quality training is costly and requires additional funding. Agencies like Childcare Resources, which recently received National Accreditation from the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, provide training for child care providers year round, and heavily relies on state funding. Childcare Resources provides a critical role in helping parents locate and pay for child care.

Without these programs, families would be desperate at such a wonderful, yet colossal time in their lives.  Such solutions do exist. Public and private partnerships in several states have proven to do both efficiently and effectively. All one has to do is look at France–Read the child care chapter from Druckerman’s best selling Bringing up Bebe.

Lots of studies have shown how other countries have successful child care systems. It’s time for America to get on board.

Thus, the question remains: will more corporations step up and invest in early care and education, or continue funding other programs that do not have as strong of a strong economic return in this investment?

I hope we find an answer and do not forget about early care and education as we debate charter schools and other educational woes. Educators, economists and child advocates know the answer and are waiting and willing to move forward.

**Read more about Pre K in Alabama’s sixth year at the top.

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What is the cost of raising a child?

Anyone who has a child – a daughter, son, niece, nephew, grandchild or step-child – knows that raising a child places many demands on the adult. Raising a child takes patience, time and – as we all know – MONEY

 The majority of us who have the privilege of caring for a child of any age relish in the joy a child brings to our lives. We unassumingly and lovingly invest in the child by providing for their basic needs like food, clothing and shelter as well as less tangible needs such as spiritual, physical, cognitive, emotional and others. The goal is always to raise a child to be healthy, happy and successful.

Yet there are hundreds of thousands of children who cost much more than others to raise. These are the innocent victims of child abuse and neglect. A recently released report underscores this sad fact. Costs to bring up children who are abused and neglected include hospitalizations, therapy, counseling, criminal justice and special education among others. Consider the story of Curtis Ray, Alabama’s multi-million dollar child.

The most depressing and perhaps cruelest cost though is that of funeral expenses for children who do not survive abuse. Not only have we lost a child, but their subsequent significant contribution to our world went with him/her. Anyone who has enjoyed the classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life  knows that one life impacts the lives of many, many others.

Today’s depressed economy and the high incidence of single-parent homes combine with other factors to increase child abuse and neglect in our community. Although the problem occurs at all socio-economic and education levels, studies show that children from lower socio-economic families experience more incidents of abuse and neglect. 

Family finances are indicative of the family’s ability to manage the cost of raising happy, healthy children. When money is scarce, stress levels increase and innocent, helpless, often voiceless children bear the brunt of their parent’s or guardian’s anger, resentment and bitterness.

What can we do to reduce and prevent these horrifying statistics? We know that prevention works. Family support programs are one way. Providing financial assistance to lower the costs of child care tuition helps too.

Alabama is in particular need right now, as funding for the Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention is being severely jeopardized in the 2013 proposed budget. We encourage you to take action now to protect funding for this vital state agency.

What do you want to do to help? What are your concerns? Let us know.