New KIDS COUNT Report finds Critical Investments Should Target the First Eight Years of Life

AECF_KC_PR_ECE-badge01_150x150Jeffersontown, KY — The KIDS COUNT policy report, The First Eight Years: Giving Kids a Foundation for Lifetime Success, co-released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Kentucky Youth Advocates, presents a strong case for investing in quality early learning opportunities and supporting parents to ensure their young children are on the right track for success. The first eight years of a child’s life are critical for developing needed emotional and cognitive skills for children to thrive.

“First and foremost, young children need strong supports at home to help them grow and develop into successful adults,” said Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates. “But many families face challenges including poverty that strain parents’ ability to ensure their children are receiving all the support they need to succeed.”

In Kentucky, 52 percent of children under age nine live below 200 percent of the poverty line ($46,566 for a family of two adults and two children). In addition, Kentucky is tied with Montana for having the highest percentage of kids (10%) who have had three or more adverse childhood experiences which includes parental divorce, the passing of a parent, incarcerated parent, witnessing or experiencing violence in the home or neighborhood, living with someone who has mental health issues, living with someone who abuses drugs or alcohol, or experiencing racial or ethnic prejudice. Adverse childhood experiences often negatively impact children both emotionally and developmentally for years to come. They even cause children to have an increased risk for health problems, such as heart disease, later in life.

The report outlines a variety of ways to help parents succeed as they care for their children. Home-visiting programs are a proven method to help new parents develop their parenting skills and strengthen families. While Kentucky is doing better than the national average of 82.9 percent of children ages birth to three in low-income families that never received a new parent home visit, there is still a large percentage (68.8 percent) of low-income Kentucky children whose families did not receive a new parent home visit.

HANDS is a voluntary home visitation program in Kentucky offered to all first time or expectant parents that helps foster healthy pregnancies and births, stable child growth and development, safe homes, and self-sufficient families.  Churches, community organizations and health care professionals providing prenatal care can help encourage first-time parents to enroll in HANDS to help increase family stability. The Governor’s Office of Early Child also offers parent guides to help aid in the challenging role of parenting.

Another way to support families in providing the environment children need to thrive is to ensure families have what they need to make ends meet. For example, a state earned income tax credit (EITC) that piggybacks off of the federal EITC would help low-income working families keep more of their hard earned dollars to provide for their children and increase family stability.

Recent cuts to the Kentucky Child Care Assistance Program are making it difficult for low-income working parents to pay for quality care, and they now face the tough decision of quitting their jobs or leaving their children in potentially unsafe child care situations. Restoring funding to this program would keep Kentucky parents working and ensure children are in quality child care that helps them prepare for kindergarten.

In addition to family supports, quality early learning opportunities such as preschool can especially help low-income children be ready to enter kindergarten. Though Kentucky had been a leader in offering preschool, only 35 percent of low-income three and four year old children in Kentucky are enrolled compared to the national average of 37 percent. Expanding preschool to all three and four year olds in families earning up to 200 percent of the federal poverty line would help more kids be prepared to enter kindergarten and also pay dividends for the future Kentucky workforce.

“A recent national poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and Hart Research showed that 89 percent of voters think early education and child care should be more affordable and 86 percent of voters believe the federal government should help by investing in quality early learning opportunities for children,” said Brooks. “It’s time for our state and federal  elected leaders to acknowledge the crucial need for this type of investment and make it a priority.”

Finally, while the goal is for young children to have the preparation they need to enter kindergarten ready to learn, schools need to help all children entering kindergarten develop the skills they need to be successful. This includes meeting children where they are and helping them overcome struggles and barriers to learning. The report promotes classroom learning that is integrated with other aspects of child development, such as social, emotional and physical development, to create opportunities for children to develop the full array of competencies they will need in life.

“Parents absolutely must play the major role in putting their young children on a track for success. However, community leaders, schools, and policymakers also need to prioritize non-cognitive and cognitive supports to increase family stability and ensure that all children, no matter the obstacles they face, have the opportunity to succeed. We cannot afford to fail children in our state,” said Brooks.

The First Eight Years: Giving Kids a Foundation for Lifetime Success includes data on early childhood development for every state, the District of Columbia and the nation. The report is available on the Annie E. Casey Foundation website here. Additional information is available in the KIDS COUNT Data Center, which also contains the most recent national, state and local data on hundreds of indicators of child well-being. The Data Center allows users to create rankings, maps and graphs for use in publications and on websites, and to view real-time information on mobile devices.

For additional information about the report or if you would like to schedule an interview, contact Andrea Bennett at abennett@kyyouth.org or 502-381-1176.

###

The Annie E. Casey Foundation creates a brighter future for the nation’s children by developing solutions to strengthen families, build paths to economic opportunity and transform struggling communities into safer and healthier places to live, work and grow. For more information, visit www.aecf.org. KIDS COUNT® is a registered trademark of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.Kentucky

Youth Advocates is a non-partisan, non-profit, children’s advocacy organization. KYA represents a voice for Kentucky’s most precious asset – its youth. We believe that Kentucky’s youth deserve the opportunities and resources necessary to ensure their productive development and health. For more information, visit www.kyyouth.org