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Infant and Toddler Care in 2025

This post originally appeared in the California Center for Research on Women and Families blog.

Today, we know more than ever about the importance of early childhood development – both in setting the stage for life-long learning and for preparing our children to fully participate in our future economy. Brain scientists have documented what we have long intuited: talking, touching, singing, and playing build critical hardware in a baby’s brain. And the country’s leading economists have attested that investing in the early years provides a tremendous return on investment in the form of productive members of our society.

In many ways, California has been at the forefront of translating this research into policies to support our youngest children. California touches the lives of countless young children through our local First Five Commissions – providing home visits, targeted services for children with special needs, parenting education programs, and nutrition services. California has the largest number of children in state-sponsored preschool of any state in the Nation.

However, it is also clear that California has not embraced early learning as central to our economic growth and critical to the future of our children and our state. Too many working parents of young children face child care that is unaffordable, confusion about the quality of available child care, and workplaces that are often unsympathetic to a family’s needs.

Vision for 2025

If we set our sights on a vision that includes these three principles, I believe we will be able to fully support families to help children thrive in the early years and beyond:

1.  A common understanding of the necessity of child development supports.

Through well-coordinated communications and policy work, Californians of 2025 will have a broad and deep appreciation of the importance of brain development of very young children – not just among advocates and researchers, but among grocery store managers, elementary school administrators, public transit operators, and governors. That understanding will permeate parents’ interactions with children. It will ripple across the early childhood education field, healing some of the fissures between those who consider themselves “child care” providers and those who focus on “early education” – it will be broadly understood that there is no such distinction.  And it will lead to common workplace policies that support families, provide them flexibility when they need it, and predictable schedules so that parents can reasonably plan their family time.

2.  Training for those who care for infants and toddlers in the home.

Families in 2025 will continue to choose family members or nannies to care for – and teach – their infants and toddlers. But there will be a much greater support system to provide training and guidance to all who provide care and teach our youngest children.

All providers need support and training, and the state should invest in making that training available by expanding the California Home Visiting Program to reach all high-risk infants and toddlers; and create a high-quality training academy for all providers of infants and toddlers (including parents). Throughout this training, providers will hear about the importance of talking, singing, hugging, and playing, as a critical component of brain development and life-long learning. They will be offered a model of how to talk to young children, a library of prompts and suggestions, and a bag of books to share with young children as they grow. State subsidies would be available only to those providers who complete this training.

3.  A robust, high-quality system of infant and toddler care.

By 2025, California will distinguish itself as a state that values quality learning for young children, as evidenced by its high quality child care centers. Parents, providers, and policy makers will share a common definition of quality, and the state will use one evidence-based system of quality rating. Families will be able to use this system to enroll their young children in programs with confidence. And state-funded reimbursement rates will reward high quality programs.

Because we want to offer particular assistance to families facing the pressures of poverty, programs will be accessible and affordable for those families. They should have the same range of choice as upper and middle class families, so that their children can also receive the type of support that is best for them.

How do we get there?

To get to the 2025 outlined here, we must start with a clear vision and set of convictions: California can and should take a stand on early learning and development. Through thoughtful and collaborative communications work, we can start a statewide conversation about these issues. Conversations about early development belong in every doctor’s office, place of worship, grocery store, and barbershop. Only when communities are reminded and convinced of the long-term gains made when we invest in young children will our politicians respond.

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