An alliance on children’s behalf

November 27th, 2017

By Madeleine Baker for The Journal Gazette

When does learning begin for a child, and what does that have to do with a community's economic success? The answers – Day One, and everything!

At the Early Childhood Alliance we do all we can to help ensure that children across northern Indiana have access to high-quality early learning experiences – lessons that translate into future success for them and their communities.

The alliance works with families, early learning professionals, community organizations and the business community to advocate for accessible, affordable, quality early education for all children. In the past, many considered K-12 as the cornerstone of education, where children initially learned the skills needed for further education and the workplace.

However, research clearly shows that nearly 90 percent of a child's brain development occurs during the first five years of life, preparing them for future success in school and beyond.

While we may have missed the initial opportunity to create a continuum of education, birth through high school, we must now recognize that education begins early. Now is the time to advocate for high-quality early learning from Day One.

How does that affect the workforce? First, availability of quality early learning programs helps businesses attract and retain a quality workforce. Studies also show that when children are in quality early education programs, businesses experience less absenteeism and higher productivity.

Only with reliable child care can parents work and/or study efficiently to establish financial stability long term, thus, a stronger economy.

Second, there is a direct correlation between quality early education and a child's success in school and beyond, leading to a better-prepared workforce. Cradle to career is not a new concept, but it is a lesson we need to embrace to help ensure not only intellectual ability, but social/emotional skills. While early learning is not the only factor affecting future success, it does provide the foundation in preparing children to learn over their lifetimes.

Today with the majority of parents in the workforce and/or school, most children are in a child care setting for much of their early years.

As one of nine Child Care Resource and Referral agencies across the state, the alliance works with families looking for child care. Free child care search assistance helps families locate a program that fits their needs from a database of licensed, licensed-exempt and certified programs. This includes programs enrolled in Paths to QUALITY, a quality rating and improvement system that was created and launched in Allen County by the alliance and later adopted statewide.

Among those are the alliance's two Learning Centers in Fort Wayne, both licensed, on the highest level 4 of Paths to QUALITY, and accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

The alliance also provides family engagement programs, which focus on how and how much parents interact with their children. Through information for new parents at the hospital, home visits with families, and group sessions with parents and children learning together, the alliance helps parents understand the importance of quality learning experiences with them at home.

While parents continue to be a child's first, most influential teachers, quality learning experiences in early childhood programs have a significant effect on children during the most critical phases of development.

Teachers are the key determinant of quality across the spectrum of early education programs, from family child care homes to child care centers, registered ministries and pre-schools.

The alliance provides coaching, professional development opportunities and technical assistance for all types of programs across 10 counties: Allen, DeKalb, Elkhart, Kosciusko, LaGrange, Marshall, Noble, St. Joseph, Steuben and Whitley.

Communities have largely underestimated the effect of early learning experiences in the past, but they can learn from current research and longitudinal studies about the effect of early learning in building a skilled workforce.

To that end, the Northeast Regional Partnership restructured its Vision 2030 pathway to focus on business attraction, talent attraction and talent development with early learning as a key task force to address the workforce of today and tomorrow.

Promoting and providing high quality early childhood care and education is the key to building better futures for children. It is both wise and critical to invest now, everyday, in the future of our youngest citizens and our communities.

Madeleine Baker is CEO of the Early Childhood Alliance.