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Palm Coast Friday, Aug. 13, 2021 2 months ago

Keys to society's future: quality child care, improved reading skills for children

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How and why to donate to the Dolly Parton Imagination Library
by: Guest Writer

by: John "JB" Birney

Interim Chair for the Early Learning Coalition of Flagler & Volusia

The first pillar of The Florida Chamber Foundation’s Florida 2030 Blueprint deals with improving our state’s talent pipeline. Two key targets in that pillar (there are six total) are Kindergarten Readiness Rates and Third Grade Reading Scores.

In short, by the year 2030, Florida’s goal is to have 100% of kindergartners ready for school and 100% of third graders reading at grade level. Noting that 2030 is only a little over eight years from now, Flagler County stands at 55% in kindergarten-ready 5-year olds, and only 59% of its third graders are reading like third graders should. (See https://thefloridascorecard.org/.)

If this now sounds like the impossible dream, then let's start tilting at some windmills together. Now is the time to call on your inner “Don Quixote” or “Sancho Panza” and bring some friends.

Under the best of circumstances, it’s hard for parents to juggle jobs while raising young children. Having safe, stable and nurturing child care is the key that allows so many families to make it all work. But with quality child care largely unaffordable or otherwise unavailable, too many families do not have the care they need.

Having access to high quality, affordable child care is critical to families throughout Flagler County. This kind of care from skilled early learning professionals feeds a growing brain, building the foundation for the development necessary for them to thrive as they grow. It helps children get ready for kindergarten and prepares young children to stay on track for success with reading through third grade, when they’re learning to read for the rest of their lives — when they must read to learn. It also engages families in their children’s learning right from the start.

And child care isn’t just important for children. In 2019, 61% of infants and toddlers had mothers in the workforce. Mothers and fathers working outside their homes need to know that their babies are well taken care of. High-quality child care gives them the peace of mind they need to focus on their work and provide for their families. In fact, child care has a tremendous benefit to our financial system, creating a total economic impact of nearly $100 billion per year.

For too long, high-quality child care has been difficult to access, especially for those who need it the most. High-quality care for infants and toddlers costs more than college in 30 states, and many families with low incomes can’t benefit from the current child care tax credit. Even if they did, the maximum tax benefit doesn’t come close to the actual cost of care. And, despite the high cost of infant care, few families receive financial assistance for it. Only 4.2% of infants and toddlers in families with low-or moderate-incomes are served by the federal Child Care and Development Fund.

What can we do? Our community needs to immediately prioritize:

  • Improving the quality and quantity of outreach and services to families with children from birth to age 3;
  • Ensuring a multi-generational perspective for addressing family and child development;
  • Improving the quality and quantity of training programs for persons working in early learning settings;
  • Strengthening the accountability system for all of Florida’s early learning providers.

The Early Learning Coalition of Flagler and Volusia Counties is leading a Grade Level Reading campaign to address some of these priorities. Campaign strategies to address child and family development include:

  • Helping families know what to expect from children at each stage of development;
  • Giving parents easy access to tools that can help them interact with children in ways that support brain development and learning from birth;
  • Delivering books to families and children at their homes so that children spend time with, talk about and read books with people they love.

Eleven years ago, a group of community leaders decided to launch Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library of Flagler County, delivering books to any enrolled Flagler County child from the time they are born until their fifth birthday. To date, $375,720 has been invested in mailing 125,240 books to enrolled children. More than 2,160 children have graduated (aged out) from the program and, as of August 2021, 1,499 children receive a book in their mailbox each month. You can support this effort by donating to Dolly Paton’s Imagination Library of Flagler County: $30 will send books to one child for a year.

2030 will be here soon. Let’s make the first pillar the strongest. The secret is investing in our youngest Flagler residents. (Don’t keep that a secret!)

 

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