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The State of Early Childhood

January 26, 2015 – Last week, Michigan residents got to hear two speeches from our political leaders – one from Governor Snyder with his State of the State Address, which was followed by President Obama’s State of the Union Address.  Families with young children should’ve heard opportunities in both of the men’s speeches as it relates to early literacy, service delivery, and better supporting families with young children through two-generation strategies.

In Governor Snyder’s address, I was pleased that he spent some time talking about Michigan’s challenges with third grade reading and how to best tackle this issue.  Instead of repeating last year’s punitive approach, he not only called for a commission of folks outside of state government to identify solutions to get more children reading proficiently, but he also mentioned that he would be recommending greater early childhood investments – beyond the Great Start Readiness preschool investment – to tackle the third grade reading issue with appropriate early interventions.  And if we know anything about the decades of research about early childhood and brain development and the emergence of the achievement gap in infancy, we know that early interventions should start at birth (or earlier) and focus on providing tools to parents to be their child’s first and best teacher – a two-generation approach to tackling literacy.  Given that our state’s revenues are down, I am glad to hear Governor Snyder continue to talk about supporting early learning and look forward to the details in his budget recommendations to be released on February 11th.

Additionally, Governor Snyder talked about merging the Departments of Community Health and Human Services.  I am sure that we will see ways to streamline efforts through this merger, and I hope that any cost-savings from service delivery is reinvested in two-generation approaches that simultaneously provide opportunities for young children to thrive while their parents get ahead in life.  We know that many families qualify for two-generation services provided by these departments that they cannot currently access due to insufficient state investment – this includes evidence-based home visiting, child abuse and neglect prevention services, family-focused mental health interventions, and other critical services that ensure young children are healthy, developmentally on-track, and that their families are on paths towards stability.  I hope we will see more of this type of holistic people-focused services coming out of the new department.

At the national level, we heard President Obama talk about a critical two-generation program in his State of the Union address.  He stated, “In today’s economy, when having both parents in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families, we need affordable, high-quality child care more than ever.”  Child care is a key component to two-generation programming and without child care, we cannot expect parents who are trying to obtain a GED or complete a workforce training program to obtain family-supporting employment without child care assistance as they work towards family self-sufficiency and success.  Obama’s child care plan will require a big lift to get approval from Congress, and Michigan’s Children will work with our Congressional delegation to ensure this issue remains a priority; and at the same time, we will continue to fight for reforms to our state’s child care system to ensure that more low-income working families can access high-quality child care.

Hearing both our Governor and President talk about better supporting families is encouraging.  Both of them – whether intentionally or not – have identified clear ways to better support young children and their parents through two-generation strategies.  Michigan’s Children will continue to lift up examples of best practice that utilize two-generation approaches and will continue to advocate for good public policies – starting with the state budget next month – that best support parents and their children simultaneously.

-Mina Hong

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