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Archive for the ‘Social-emotional development’ Category

“A child is born in Massachusetts… then what happens?”

That’s the important question that the new website EC 101 tries to answer for parents, providers, policymakers, and philanthropists who want to promote healthy childhood development across Massachusetts by mapping out the state’s many early childhood programs and resources.

Ideally, Brian Gold says, the answer to What happens after a child is born? should be that children “grow and thrive.” Gold is the executive director of the Massachusetts Early Childhood Funder Collaborative, a group of individuals and foundations that worked with the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy to create EC 101 (short for Early Childhood 101).

But Gold — as a professional, a former foster parent, and the father of a 15-month-old child — sees a clear need for more clarity.

To create this clarity, EC 101’s goal is to tame the state’s complex early childhood system by creating “a visual, accessible format that allows for clear understanding of the current conditions of the early childhood landscape.”

To do this, the website draws on feedback from parents, stakeholders, and experts as well as on state and national research to create an interactive tool that’s full of information. The website can also be translated into multiple languages, everything from Albanian and Chinese to Thai and Yiddish.

An EC 101 webinar is posted above.

One important distinction that EC 101 makes is that there are early childhood systems – and there’s a “non-system.”

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The Prince and Princess of Wales came to Boston last week, and one issue on the royal agenda was early childhood.

The princess, also known as Kate Middleton, visited Harvard to meet with researchers at the university’s Center on the Developing Child.

For Middleton, it was part of a long-standing commitment to young children. As the Royal Foundation for the Prince and Princess of Wales explains on its website:

“Over the last decade, The Princess of Wales has spent time looking into how experiences in early childhood are often the root cause of today’s hardest social challenges, such as addiction, family breakdown, poor mental health, suicide and homelessness.”

In 2020, The Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (the prince and princess’ royal titles at the time) released a report on the public’s opinion of early childhood in the United Kingdom based on the responses of half a million people — and factoring in the impact of the pandemic. Among the report’s observations:

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Next month, Massachusetts will have new leadership, so it’s time for advocates to learn about and reach out to key players in state public policy.

One good place to start is learning about the transition teams that have been created by Governor-elect Maura Healey and Lieutenant Governor-elect Kim Driscoll.

The key committee for early childhood advocates to focus on is called “Thriving Youth and Young Adults.”

Chaired by Amanda Fernandez, the CEO of Latinos for Education, and Worcester Public Schools Superintendent Rachel H. Monárrez, the committee is looking at, “How we address learning loss from the pandemic and give all children and families equitable access to the educational, social, emotional and behavioral supports they need.”

Serving on the committee are well known members of the early education and care community, including:

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Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

“My name is Gillian Budine. I have been a Coordinated Family and Community Engagement (CFCE) grant program coordinator for many years, including during the Community Partnership and Family Network days. Locally we call our CFCE program the Community Network for Children (CNC) Program and our priority communities are Erving, Leverett, New Salem, Shutesbury and Wendell, but our programs reach families beyond those five towns to neighboring towns with our CFCE programming.”

“CFCE programs have been a crucial hub of support and resources for families. Especially in our small rural communities.”

Testimony submitted to the Board of the Department of Early Education and Care, p. 6, November 8, 2022

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What parents said:

“Working with CNC has been incredible throughout the time we have been involved, from last trimester of pregnancy to current days of our daughter being 1. Our daughter has learned so much and is quite advanced as a result of this program and what it offers.”

“My son and I have been attending CNC programs since he was a few months old. He now has such a fondness for music and stories. During the pandemic, we have been so grateful to have a safe, welcoming environment to attend, learn, and grow. Without the CNC programs, my son would not have had the opportunity at his young age to listen to live guitar, [engage in] singing as a group, read alouds, and exploration. Thank you for this incredible opportunity!”

“Our playgroups in Shutesbury and Erving have been of utmost importance in maintaining social connections and parental support throughout the pandemic, especially during the winter months. We have appreciated the efforts of all staff involved in planning, coordinating, and implementing these groups. My daughter lights up with excitement to see Ms. Katie play guitar and sing songs. She practices social skills of waving and taking turns when with her peers. She’s developed a sense of pride and independence when giving supplies back to Ms. Gillian to help clean up. To see other parents has also helped give me support and comfort during these times of being in isolation throughout the cold months.”

Testimony submitted to the Board of the Department of Early Education and Care, p. 7, November 8, 2022

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This past summer, Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child “welcomed Lindsey Burghardt, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, as our Chief Science Officer.” Dr. Burghardt “leads our efforts to translate the science of early childhood—particularly the science behind ECD 2.0—for key audiences in the health sector, from policymakers to pediatricians. As a practicing pediatrician herself, Dr. Burghardt brings a clinician’s perspective to this work.

“In recognition of Children’s Health Month, Dr. Burghardt shares her thoughts on the importance of understanding and supporting sound mental health, particularly for our youngest children.

“Q: The COVID-19 pandemic has led to tremendous challenges for both children and caregivers, including an increase in mental health issues and a lack of access to providers who can help. As a pediatrician, what are some of the issues you have been seeing in your own practice on this front?

“A: ​There have been so many strains on caregivers during the pandemic. In particular, many working families have struggled to maintain access to consistent, high-quality childcare, which puts incredible stress on both caregivers and young children. The childcare environment is so important for children’s healthy development—their relationships with immediate caregivers matter a great deal, but so do their relationships with providers in early care and education, as well as with other adults in their communities.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has put significant stress on an already strained system, with a shortage of providers and limited options for parents to balance caring for their children and working to maintain their income. I’ve heard from many caregivers that they are experiencing significant stress, and in some cases job insecurity, due to the lack of consistent childcare. For caregivers who work nontraditional hours such as overnight shiftwork, or for those who care for multiple children, the stresses can be even greater. I’ve also observed increases in behavioral challenges and anxiety, including among young children.

“Q: Amidst all these challenges, how can caregivers and providers help create environments that foster strong mental health for babies and toddlers in a post-COVID world?

“A: The role of caregivers and providers is critical in fostering good mental health, so we must support the needs of the adults who care for children, through both individual and systems level approaches. When we support adults directly and tackle the systemic inequities that challenge families and providers, we help ensure that children can develop in health-promoting environments.”

“Children’s Health Month: The Importance of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health,” Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child, October 2022

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What are the best ways for states to help young children?

The Prenatal-to-3 State Policy Roadmap has answers that were shared earlier this month at a virtual summit that drew “thousands of national and state leaders, scholars, and practitioners.” Videos of that event are posted here.

Released by Vanderbilt University’s Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center, the roadmap is an annual guide that draws on the science of child development. Specifically, the roadmap looks at:

• young children’s wellbeing

• proven, evidence-based policy strategies

• states’ implementation of 11 effective policy and strategy solutions, and

• how policy changes impact young children and their families, and how these changes reduce racial and ethnic disparities

Those 11 policy and strategy solutions are:

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Last week was the kickoff of The Early Childhood Agenda, a brand new effort to develop a broadly inclusive agenda of early childhood policy priorities. So far, nearly 400 parents, providers, and partners have signed up to be part of this effort. To join them, click here.

The Agenda, as its new website explains, “takes a whole-child approach, working across sectors for better policy development and to identify effective solutions that may not be visible from one sector’s viewpoint.”

The Agenda’s goal is to help Massachusetts make historic and sustainable progress.

Missed the kickoff event? You can watch it by clicking on the video posted above. Related materials are posted here.

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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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Felicia Billy head shot

We’re continuing to highlight our Advocacy Network participants, and we’re excited about all the work they’re doing in the field and across the state. For past blogs click here, here, here, and here.

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Felicia Billy was working at a privately owned child care center — and applying for early education jobs at the YMCA of Greater Boston.

What made the Y attractive? 

“The benefits,” Billy says.

This sounds like a personal issue, but Billy is also putting her finger on the fact that so many early educators don’t have the kind of benefits – such as retirement savings plans — that K-12 educators and many other professionals can take for granted.

The Y also offered another perk that other early childhood programs don’t: a career ladder. Billy started as a teacher, became a curriculum coordinator, next she was the assistant early education director, and then she moved into her current position as the early education director.

The Y also allows for Billy’s creativity. 

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We’re continuing to highlight our Advocacy Network participants, and we’re excited about all the work they’re doing in the field and across the state. For past blogs click here and here and here

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Anna Ricci-Mejia is an example of how multifaceted a Bostonian’s life can be. She grew up in Boston’s North End neighborhood. She’s an early educator at the East Boston Social Centers. Her parents immigrated to Boston from Italy. Her husband is from Central America. She speaks English and Italian. And in high school she learned to speak Spanish. 

When Ricci-Mejia heard about Strategies for Children’s Advocacy Network, she was immediately interested. She wanted to speak up for people. In any of her three languages.

“I know a lot of people, especially undocumented immigrants, are afraid to speak up or even get quality childcare for their children. And I always say, it doesn’t matter what your immigration status is. Your kids have to learn, and they have to learn and socialize when they’re young, because if they don’t, it will be harder later on.”

In the classroom, Ricci-Mejia speaks whatever language children in her care respond to, creating the kind of supportive environment she didn’t have as a kid who went straight from her mother’s care into kindergarten. She didn’t speak English. Other kids teased her. But over time she learned this new language. 

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