Left Out of the Debate Conversation? The Youngest Among Us

July 2, 2019

With the first round of Democratic presidential debates behind us, we’ve heard from candidates about their proposals and views on a number of issues, ranging from foreign policy to health care to the economy.

Affordable college education also has received a lot of attention so far, with 16 candidates weighing in with their positions on how much, if any, the government should pay toward college expenses. However, when those of us who work in early childhood education watched these debates, we were disappointed by the fact that candidates mentioned that they believe in universal pre-K and affordable day care but didn’t include any meaningful discussion of high-quality child care and early education.

We need to value the youngest among us and invest in their futures now.

These early years are key to how a child’s future plays out, affecting everything from closing the achievement gap to improving health outcomes. Neuroscience has shown that a 3-year-old typically has twice as many synapses as an adult, and “the caliber of infants’ or toddlers’ daily interactions with an early childhood educator has the potential to impact their brain structure throughout their lifetime.”

Although we have ample research and data to support the need for high-quality early childhood education and child care, too many children do not have access to this critical resource at a pivotal moment in their lives, often as a result of household income and geography.

Low-income infants, toddlers, and preschool-age children are affected the most, with fewer than one in five of this group enrolled in high-quality early childhood education. A report from Child Care Aware of America, The US and the High Cost of Child Care: 2018, found that “[i]n 28 states plus the District of Columbia, the annual cost for center-based infant care exceeded the cost of in-state tuition at a public university,” illustrating the cost challenges facing families across the country.

If policymakers — especially those running for president — focus on making early childhood education and child care both affordable and high quality, they could help alleviate the tremendous financial burden experienced by many low- and middle-income families. In doing so, they also could give more children access to the opportunities they need early on to succeed over the course of their lives — including pursuing higher education.

One solution? Develop policies that require all education and care facilities to adhere to stringent standards for quality care. For example, if every professional who works with infants, toddlers, and young children was required to earn the Child Development Associate Credential™ (CDA), parents and caregivers could feel confident that their children are taught and cared for by professionals who have demonstrated competence in essential skills areas. Ultimately, this kind of commitment by state and federal policymakers will benefit communities and society as a whole.

As the conversations about our nation’s future continue, we all should demand that they include plans for funding and improving early childhood education. As we get deeper into primary season and the general election, hopefully we’ll hear more about candidates’ ideas for investing in our children—and in our future.

Suggested citation: Washington, Valora, Ph.D. Left Out of the Debate Conversation? The Youngest Among Us. Council for Professional Recognition. Washington, D.C. July 2019.

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