Early childhood advocates present preliminary report

Kansas families face numerous gaps and inequitable access to early childhood services, according to a needs assessment released Friday.

“Where you live makes a difference for better or worse for a wide range of services for your family,” said Melissa Rooker, executive director of the Kansas Children’s Cabinet. She said “geography” within the state and within local communities was often a major factor in early childhood services.

She added, “We are seeing incredible stress placed on families because of the lack of child care.”

Through a federal planning grant, the state conducted 53 public meetings across Kansas this spring and summer to gather input on what programs are available for children before they enter school and what needs are out there.The report represents the input of nearly 6,000 Kansans.

The goal is to put together a statewide system that addresses early childhood on numerous levels, such as learning, health care, developmental screenings and parent education.

While there are many needs, Rooker noted many bright spots in Kansas where communities got together to provide services. At every meeting, public libraries were praised by parents for providing programs, she said.

In a recent KASB Live interview, Rooker and and Amanda Petersen, director of early childhood for the Kansas State Department of Education, emphasized the importance of helping children from birth through five-years-old to develop mentally and be ready for kindergarten. Here is the link to that interview.

Here are the major themes found in the early childhood needs assessment:

— Accessibility. Families with young children experience inequitable access to high-quality programs and services across the broader early childhood system;

— Availability. Families with young children experience a gap between the services that are available and their actual needs, especially among vulnerable and underserved populations;

— Navigation. Families must adopt a `connect the dots’ approach to navigate services across sectors; disruptors are frequent and common;

— Collaboration and Integration. Early childhood providers and stakeholders share a desire for collaboration and cooperation but these are often disconnected and uncoordinated;

— Workforce. Early childhood workforce needs at leadership and direct service levels include preparation, compensation/financial relief, ongoing training and support, recruitment and retention;

— Systems alignment. Greater systems alignments needed to fully realize an efficient and robust early childhood care and education infrastructure;

— Facilities. Needs exist related to the physical conditions and environments of early childhood facilities across the state;

— Bright spots. Efficient, innovative, responsive efforts are occurring among early care and education system partners in communities throughout Kansas.

The advocates will present an initial plan on Oct.7 during the Governor’s Symposium for Early Childhood in Wichita and then gather more public input before presenting a final plan in November. The effort has been a collaboration between the Kansas State Department of Education, Kansas Department for Children and Families, Kansas Department of Health and Environment and Children’s Cabinet.

State Sen. Dinah Sykes, D-Lenexa, and a member of the Children’s Cabinet, said, “We are really positioning ourselves for a good spot in the future.”

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