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“The latest results of the longest-running study of state-funded pre-K in the nation strengthen the case for universal programs open to all young children.

“Released Tuesday by researchers at Georgetown University, the results show that young adults who attended a universal pre-K program in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as 4-year-olds were more likely to graduate from high school on time and enroll in college than peers who didn’t attend.

“They’re also more civically engaged. The percentage of former pre-K students who registered to vote and actually cast ballots was 4.5 points higher than for those who started kindergarten without pre-K.

“ ‘Middle class kids benefit from a strong program,’ said William Gormley, a professor and co-director of the Center for Research on Children in the U.S. ‘Disadvantaged kids benefit even more.’ ”

“Results From Long-Running Study Bolster Case for Universal Pre-K,” by Linda Jacobson, The 74, September 20, 2022

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The new 2022 KIDS COUNT Data Book is out. It’s the annual, Annie E. Casey Foundation report that takes a deep dive into how the nation’s children are doing.

This year, the data book points out that while the pandemic and widespread economic uncertainty have caused harm, there are also pockets of progress. 

This year’s report focuses on children’s mental health.

“As of July 2022, the health crisis had killed more than 1 million people in America, including more than 1,600 children,” the foundation says of the pandemic’s impact. “During this same time span, more than 200,000 kids had lost a parent or primary caregiver to the virus.”

This has “helped fuel what the U.S. surgeon general has called a mental health pandemic for youth. According to the Data Book, the incidence of anxiety and depression among kids has spiked. Comparing pre-pandemic to the first year of the COVID-19 crisis: The share of children struggling to make it through the day rose nearly 26% — from 9.4% (5.8 million kids) in 2016 to 11.8% (7.3 million kids) in 2020.”

Another challenge is racial and eth­nic dis­par­i­ties that have con­tributed to “dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly trou­bling men­tal health and well­ness con­di­tions among chil­dren of col­or. Nine per­cent of high-school­ers over­all but 12% of Black stu­dents, 13% of stu­dents of two or more races, and 26% of Amer­i­can Indi­an or Native Alaskan high-school­ers attempt­ed sui­cide in the year pri­or to the most recent fed­er­al sur­vey.”

In addition, “many LGBTQ young peo­ple are encoun­ter­ing chal­lenges as they seek men­tal health sup­port. Among het­ero­sex­u­al high school stu­dents of all races and eth­nic­i­ties, 6% attempt­ed sui­cide; the share was 23% for gay, les­bian or bisex­u­al students.”

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“In this article, we aim to shed light on the race and parental status of the workers who were more likely to leave the ECE industry and how working conditions have changed for those who remain. These differences can help policymakers better understand the challenges facing the industry and how to best allocate a recent influx of federal funds for ECE.”

“We found that, compared with the pre-pandemic period:

• ECE teachers are less racially diverse and are less likely to be mothers of young and school-age children.
• Those who stayed in the ECE industry had higher health risks but only a small pay increase.
• None of these effects are found among K–8 teachers.”

“…at a time when there are unprecedented federal funds allocated to improve the ECE industry, prioritizing efforts to make the industry more career oriented could improve the outcomes of ECE teachers, the children attending centers and their families. As this funding runs out in the coming years, fundamental hurdles will remain as the ECE industry recovers from the pandemic.”

“Black Workers, Mothers Leaving Early Education and Child Care Jobs amid Health Risks, Low Pay,” by Anna Crockett and Xiaohan Zhang, The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, August 11, 2022

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For the past two months, I have had the great opportunity to be a summer intern with Strategies for Children (SFC) through the Early Childhood Policy and Leadership certificate program at Boston College’s Institute of Early Childhood Policy. From the first staff meetings with Amy, Titus, Marisa, Nery, Marge, and Jenna, I have felt welcomed as a member of the team.

During these staff conversations, the team has often discussed how advocacy work is relationship-based. And being included in various meetings since the start of the internship has helped me to see these relationships in practice. The meetings with partners and collaborators are imbued with the feeling of “we:” the goal is shared, the work is shared, and the information is shared. If one person or organization does not know information or feels that someone else may be a more helpful resource, Strategies staff connect people with one another, with organizations, and with resources. Sharing time, information and resource, during meetings and in follow-up emails highlights Strategies’ culture of connection and respect.

The projects I have participated in also reflect this sense of teamwork and shared goals. One project involved collaborating with a team of community partners in Haverhill, Mass., to design a family survey to help inform early childhood partners about families’ early education program and resource needs and to be a tool that Haverhill could use annually. Each meeting with the community partners gave me more insight into how to create and administer a survey. Additionally, I was able to attend a recent Boston Opportunity Agenda Birth-to-Eight Data Committee meeting where surveys were discussed. The themes at the meeting echoed ideas that the community partners had recommended: keep the survey short, have the intended audience test the survey, and have paper and digital options.

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Play is important for children.

However, what’s missing from this important idea, a new report says, is a clear understanding of how play can be an effective learning strategy in early childhood settings – and how best to share this concept with the public.

The report – “The Role of Play in Designing Effective Early Learning Environments and Systems” – explores “questions and debates” about play by drawing on interviews with experts and stakeholders. 

The report is the capstone project of Yael Schick, a Saul Zaentz Fellow and recent graduate of the Ed. M in Education Leadership, Organizations, and Entrepreneurship program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Strategies for Children served as the host site for Yael and offered project guidance.

Guiding questions for this project include:

• What is play, and what makes an early childhood program “play-based?”

• Why does play remain a divisive issue? What are the misunderstandings and misconceptions about play-based pedagogy?

• How do we ensure that all children have the opportunity to learn through play? And,

• How must we communicate with policymakers, practitioners, and parents about the effects of play in young children’s learning and development?

While there are no set definitions of play or play-based learning, there is a great deal of useful research on these topics. Among the findings:

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Screenshot: Federal Reserve Bank of Boston

In the search for child care, many mothers end up making disappointing tradeoffs.

To better understand what parents face, the Federal Reserve Bank took a closer look at the challenges and released the findings in a new issue brief, “Child care tradeoffs among Massachusetts mothers.”

“Between October 2019 and January 2020, we interviewed 67 mothers in Massachusetts whose children had not yet started kindergarten,” the brief explains. It was written by Sarah Savage, a senior policy analyst and advisor at the Boston Fed, and Wendy Robeson, senior research scientist with the Work, Families, and Children Research Group at the Wellesley Centers for Women.

What Savage and Robeson heard from the mothers they interviewed were the many ways that child care tradeoffs have an economic impact. (Dads were invited to participate in these interviews, but all the responses came from moms.) This is pre-Covid research that shows how tough it was to find child care in normal times. Now in the midst of the pandemic, these challenges continue, and some have grown worse.

“This study reveals that an inadvertent effect of a mostly private market of child care is that it requires parents of young children to compromise and in some cases sacrifice what they need to achieve and maintain economic security, let alone advance it, with consequences for their children’s development,” the brief explains.

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Cheyanne Nichter

Cheyanne Nichter and her son

This Spring, I will be graduating from Bunker Hill Community College with honors and an associate degree in Early Childhood Development. Over the course of the semester I have been working as an intern for Strategies For Children, exploring issues and opportunities in our field as well as my own abilities and passions. I have also reevaluated my goals and future pathways in both my academic and professional pursuits. As a result of the pandemic, and the fact that I live in a child care desert, I took on these challenges with my young son on my hip. 

During my time at Strategies, I saw first-hand how early childhood programs, families, diversity, sociology, research/data collection, and the pursuit of societal justice all intersect in the world of advocacy and engagement. This led me to do an independent research project that draws on my analysis of how the use of digital platforms and trends corresponds to social shifts, and how advocacy organizations can capitalize on digital resources to reach more deeply into the community. My presentation, “Modern Engagement: Making Advocacy Accessible”, covers how organizations can use interactive social platforms for effective communication and engagement. This approach uses modern communication tools and strategies that meet communities where they are, allowing them to access and participate in the dialogue and to use the advocacy resources within their personal bandwidth.

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“A new Yale study found that child care programs in the United States that practiced child masking early in the COVID-19 pandemic (May-June 2020) experienced a 13% reduction in program closure within the following year, and continued child masking throughout the one-year study period was associated with a 14% reduction in program closure.

“The first-of-its-kind study of child masking, published today in JAMA Network Open, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Medical Association, followed the experiences of 6,654 center-based and home-based child care professionals from all 50 states during a one-year period (May/June 2020 through May/June 2021).”

“ ‘We have been seeing increased numbers of children, especially young children not yet able to be vaccinated against COVID-19, admitted to our children’s hospital,’ said Thomas Murray, associate medical director for infection prevention at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital and the study’s lead author. ‘It is heartening to know that following child masking recommendations for children two years and older may be an effective means for keeping young children in child care programs and potentially lowering their risk for COVID-19.’ ”

“ ‘It’s the disruptions in learning opportunities and care routines that harm children, not the masks,’ said Walter Gilliam, a professor of child psychiatry and psychology at the Yale Child Study Center and the study’s senior author.

“Research has shown that children two years and older can safely wear masks in child care settings. ‘It is our responsibility to protect our young children by providing them with safe learning environments,’ Gilliam said. ‘But we also need to remember that young children are incredibly observant. If they cannot see us smile with our mouths, they still will see us smile with our eyes or in the way in which we talk with them. Young children are incredible that way.’ ”

“For child care programs, masking helped minimize closures, study shows,” Yale News, January 27, 2022

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“Federally funded universal pre-K has the potential to greatly benefit families, children, and the economy at large. A substantial body of research finds that high-quality pre-K can have a meaningful impact on children’s short- and long-term development, providing them with valuable skills to succeed in school and beyond. And two years of pre-K for the child also means two years of reduced child care costs for the parents. A study in Washington, D.C., even found that access to universal pre-K improved mothers’ workforce participation. And yet, despite such clear evidence of the benefits, six states still don’t offer state-funded pre-K programs for four-year-olds, and within the states that do, quality and access vary significantly depending on where a child lives, and very few programs offer universal access. But Build Back Better could provide states with the funding to improve the quality of programs and vastly expand access.”

“The Universal Benefits of Universal Pre-K,” by Aaron Loewenberg, Abbie Lieberman, and Laura Bornfreund, New America, January 4, 2022

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“A growing body of research points to the enormous benefits to children and program quality when early educators from all levels of the field have access to relational and entrepreneurial leadership training. Relational leadership recognizes the expertise or authority of each person to exercise leadership to influence change, regardless of formal titles or roles. Entrepreneurial leadership focuses on designing and leading efforts to solve seemingly intractable problems for which there are no existing or predefined solutions.

“Early educators who receive such training experience transformative shifts in their mindsets. They redefine leadership from something that is hierarchical to leadership that is highly collaborative, relational, and purpose-driven. They connect their new understanding of leadership with their past and present actions and capabilities. They see themselves as leaders, often for the first time.

“What do early educators do with their new leadership skills? They pursue entrepreneurial ventures that increase the supply of quality child care in their communities. They provide expert testimony to lawmakers and share their expertise with media to educate the public about the importance of investing in the field. They experiment with innovations that improve the quality of their programs.”

“Early investment in child care workforce may pay big dividends,” by Anne Douglass, CommonWealth Magazine, November 15, 2021

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