By Megan Carolan
“A child’s path to either success or hardship is well-established within the first 2,000 days of life…During this narrow window of opportunity, a child’s day-to-day experiences and surroundings— whether positive or negative—have a direct, powerful effect on the structural and functional development of the brain, including intelligence and personality.” So begins a new report from the Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF) which focuses on the experience of child care providers in the Philadelphia area to shape an early childhood system that better serves children, families, and providers.
For over a decade, NFF worked with providers in five counties in Southeastern Pennsylvania, with support from the William Penn Foundation, to understand the barriers and successes of regional child care providers. In a field driven by data and outcomes measurements, this report supplements figures with qualitative reflections essential to understand the state of early care and education in Pennsylvania and throughout the country. Their key findings paints a picture of a system in need of particular support to best serve families:
The report goes beyond these highlights to provide recommendations for providers, funders, and policymakers. It is clear that communication among these groups, and an understanding of the challenges faced by providers, is key to developing a working system.
The report comes at a time of building momentum for early childhood in the area. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter has made early childhood education a key focusing of his administration, releasing A Running Start Philadelphia, a “citywide early learning plan [which] lays the foundation for providing our children with the best possible beginnings in life, while seeking to mitigate the damaging effects of poverty.” The plan details a number of goals and strategies focused on ensuring currently available learning services in both centers and homes are of high quality as well as expanding opportunities to the majority of Philadelphia’s young children. Philadelphia residents will vote in November on the creation of a taskforce to study preschool funding and implementation options. The University of Pennsylvania recently released a toolkit for funders focused on early childhood. It offers a “crash course” on the importance of early childhood as well as next steps for investing meaningfully in making change. While this work is particular to the Keystone state, there is no doubt the lessons from it apply to the nation as a whole and can provide a cornerstone on which to build our work.