In the United States, roughly 60 percent of mothers with children under age 6 work, most relying on some form of child care. For these children, high-quality early childhood programming is essential. The first five years of life span the period of most rapid social-emotional, physical and cognitive development and provide either a strong or weak foundation for future learning. Studies show that children participating in high-quality early education develop better language and social skills and score higher in school readiness tests. Entering school, they are less likely to need special education, less likely to repeat grades and 30 percent more likely to graduate from high school. The odds they will attend college are more than double. High-quality early childhood programming also has a significant economic benefit for communities; funds invested in early education yield an estimated 16 percent for every dollar.
Unfortunately, these programs are critically under-funded and inaccessible to many families. In Massachusetts alone, almost 19,000 children are on waiting lists to receive financial assistance to enroll in early care and education programs. On May 5, Senator Robert Casey of Pennsylvania introduced the Starting Early, Starting Right Act, legislation that would provide $50 billion over five years to help states improve access to high-quality early care and education.
Sunday we celebrated mothers. Now let’s honor them by urging our Members of Congress—Senators John Kerry and Edward Kennedy and Representative Michael Capuano—to support this increased funding. Mothers—and all parents—are working hard for their children; they shouldn’t have to do it alone.
The writer is president & CEO of Associated Early Care and Education, a nonprofit agency serving over 1,050 children throughout Greater Boston, including at a center in the Bromley-Heath housing development and a network of family child care programs, including providers in Jamaica Plain. About 74 children who live in JP are enrolled in Associated’s programs.