Guilford County one of 29 communities selected for initiative giving infants and toddlers a better start

BY CINDE INGRAM

HIGH POINT ENTERPRISE STAFF WRITER

GUILFORD COUNTY — Guilford and Watauga counties are among 29 communities from across the nation selected to work with leading national organizations to focus on child development from birth to age 3.

Research shows investments in the first three years of life, when a child’s brain develops faster than at any other time period, are most critical in helping children become more confident, empathetic, contributing members of their communities.

Guilford County will launch an initiative in partnership with the national Center for the Study of Social Policy in support of the effort to support families with infants and toddlers. Ready for School, Ready for Life has been working with community partners across Guilford for the past three years to build a well-coordinated early childhood system that is supportive of families and creates better outcomes for children, said Mary Herbenick, executive director of Ready for School, Ready for Life.

“While Guilford County has many innovative and effective programs serving families with young children, we haven’t had the opportunity as a community to take a step back to build a more connected, coordinated system of care,” Herbenick said. “Families tell us that they can’t always get what they need to support their children at this critical stage of development.”

The National Association of Counties, National League of Cities, National Institute for Children’s Health Quality and StriveTogether also selected community partners that are committed to ensuring children have a strong start in life. The partnership is funded by the Pritzker Children’s Initiative (PCI), a project of the J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation.

“This announcement marks an unprecedented moment in our nation’s commitment to our youngest learners,” said Janet Froetscher, president of the J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation. “For the first time, communities across the country will work together to take action to increase high-quality services for children from birth to age 3 toward a common goal of kindergarten readiness. The communities will support a strong start for babies and toddlers through local solutions: giving children a healthy start at birth, strengthening support for families with infants and toddlers and expanding high-quality care and learning environments.”

Partner organizations will equip communities with tools to strengthen early childhood systems and share best practices with other cities, counties and states. In turn, communities will share resources that will drive policies and make the case for public and private investment in core services for infants and toddlers.

“The Pritzker Children’s Initiative gives us the opportunity to learn what other communities are doing in the prenatal through age 3 space — the time when brain development occurs most rapidly,” Herbenick said. “In addition to gathering feedback from families, learning what works and what doesn’t, will help our community make better decisions about how to serve Guilford families most effectively.”

The needs of infants and toddlers cannot all be addressed with a one-size-fits-all approach. As part of this joint initiative, local leaders will pursue a variety of interlocking strategies in the child care, health, early childhood education and human services domains that promote and work toward the well-being of young children. These integrated approaches will build on promising existing community-driven efforts and work to address new challenges as they aim to provide parents with unique tools, information and guidance at a time when many feel most overwhelmed.

“These communities will be at the forefront of developing public policy and practice that embraces the new knowledge we have about brain science,” said Rachel Schumacher, director of PCI. “We now know that waiting to invest in our children — our nation’s future — until kindergarten or even pre-K is too late. By bringing communities together around shared goals and outcome measures, we can move the needle to set our nation’s babies and toddlers up for success.”

Research shows investments in children and their families in the earliest years help communities create better education, health, social and economic outcomes that increase revenue and reduce the need for costly, less effective interventions later in life. With an estimated 3 million of the nation’s youngest children at risk of reaching kindergarten not ready to learn, this Initiative seeks a dramatic investment in improving kindergarten readiness.

Ten Early Childhood Learning and Innovation Network for Communities (EC-LINC) will be participating in the Pritzker Children’s Initiative, a specialized effort to make sure young children are developmentally on track for school by age 3, said Frank Farrow, president, Center for the Study of Social Policy. “EC-LINC has made significant strides in advancing early childhood systems by promoting peer learning, innovation, results-based action and equity for all,” Farrow said. “Thanks to generous support from PCI, participating communities will tackle the toughest challenges related to maternal and child health, family support and early care and education. They will develop models for how communities across the country can work to create brighter futures for the youngest children and their families.”

In addition to the economic benefits, high-quality early childhood development programs can reduce chronic disease and health care costs, and can result in better education outcomes and higher incomes as adults. Early childhood development lays the foundation for school readiness with social-emotional skills that children need to do well both in and out of school, including attentiveness, persistence, impulse control and sociability.

“Our vision is that all families with young children will be able to connect seamlessly with services they need, when they need it,” Herbenick said. “We’re honored to have support from Pritzker Children’s Initiative to help make this vision a reality.”

cingram@hpenews.com

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