The quality of family and neighborhood life often depends on the care that children get between birth (including prenatal care) and age 5. Because of how children develop in the earliest years – for example, 90% of brain growth occurs before age 5 – early childhood care and education are critical.
Government is no substitute for what families should be able to do for themselves. But some families are less able than others, and children, for their own sake and for the wellbeing of our communities, must be assured a healthy, nurturing start.
Several essential elements in early childhood care and education need attention:
- Home visiting programs – in which trained professionals provide expectant parents and young families with parenting education and other help – have been shown to make a big difference in the lives of the children and the families. They help to prevent child abuse and neglect. More investment in such programs is necessary.
- Child care must be available, high-quality and affordable. In 2012, about 80% of Maryland children under age 12 had mothers in the workforce. To meet the demand for child care, the waiting list for subsidy programs for families must be eliminated, and the decade-old reimbursement rates for providers must be increased.
- Head Start and pre-kindergarten programs must be expanded. And staff training must be enhanced, particularly so children receive the language acquisition and social skills that are keys to future school success.