Now more than ever, our city, state, and nation need to address the crisis of the lack of affordable, high-quality early childcare.

This spring, I enrolled in Encore!Connecticut – a corporate-to-nonprofit executive leadership program of the University of Connecticut’s Department of Public Policy and Connecticut nonprofit partners. As part of that program, I interned at New Haven Children’s Ideal Learning District (NH ChILD), a nonprofit working to revolutionize the early care and education (ECE) landscape in New Haven.

As a mother, ECE was necessary for me to return to work after my daughter was born.  However, my fellowship at NH ChILD taught me how valuable ECE is to both children and the economic growth and well-being of our cities and state. In fact, the US Chamber of Commerce considers ECE as the key to solving the two-generation workforce challenge: i.e., the ability to recruit and retain top talent and as an underestimated phase of education and human development necessary for a well-educated work force.

Brain science supports the importance of ECE for children. Access to affordable, high-quality ECE for every child is vital.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, “The early years of a child’s life are very important for later health and development. One of the main reasons is how fast the brain grows starting before birth and continuing into early childhood. Although the brain continues to develop and change into adulthood, the first 8 years can build a foundation for future learning, health and life success.”

ECE is also an investment in future economic growth. As we begin to reopen the economy after the current pandemic, it will be difficult for those responsible for children to return to work if they do not have access to safe, affordable care.

A common argument against expanding early childhood care and education is that it is too expensive. Specifically, the cost to taxpayers is perceived as a barrier. However, it turns out that great brain science is also great for our economy. The Nobel Prize-winning, University of Chicago Economics Prof. James Heckman’s research demonstrates the significant benefits New Haven could reap by investing in high-quality ECE. “The rate of return for investment in quality early childhood education is 13% per annum through better outcomes in education, health, sociability, economic productivity and reduced crime.” These gains are significant and pay for themselves many times over.

Luckily, New Haven has a model for how to expand affordable, high-quality ECE. The NH ChILD model for ECE access includes an infrastructure plan, rethinking public funding options, and an early childcare resource network. That way, high-quality ECE is affordable and accessible to all New Haven children from birth to age eight.

NH ChILD promotes Ideal Learning (IL) approaches for New Haven’s young children and assumes that children best achieve their potential through learning that activates their interests, abilities, and talents to build knowledge, know-how, and confidence. To ensure quality, the plan includes professional learning and quality measures as well as partnerships for family engagement and parent leadership training. This comprehensive plan could be a model for our state and nation.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the ECE crisis is even more apparent. State legislators, childcare experts, parents, and business leaders are urging the federal government to fund ECE now so our economy can reopen and prosper. Congress has failed to pass the urgently needed “Childcare is Essential Act.”

Leadership and funding are vital to ensure that safe and affordable care is available so parents can return to work and children can thrive in safe, nurturing, high quality environments.  Therefore, I urge you to contact your local, state, and federal representatives and let them know that funding ECE is vital for a healthy economy and essential for a well-educated workforce of the future.

Debra D’Arinzo is a Fellow at Encore!Connecticut.

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