By Marsha Basloe, Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Early Childhood Development
Living in Massachusetts and New York, I am no stranger to cold weather in the winter. I fortunately have my share of hats, mittens and down coats.
Even recently having some foot surgery and struggling to find boots to keep my feet warm, I did not weather the frigid cold unprepared! I wish that were true for everyone, especially families with young children.
Temperatures in the Washington, D.C., and Virginia area dipped to single digit numbers and shelters were full to capacity. The Midwest had even lower temperatures to deal with. Superintendents worried about children being out in the cold wisely cancelled school. City, county and state officials closed roads, added staff when possible to handle power and roads, and asked folks to conserve energy.
That all made sense for Mother Nature had once again reminded us that she was in control.
Unfortunately, not every family in need is able to access shelter. Families may be asked to put their name on a waitlist or even call emergency shelters daily to see if a shelter space has become available. Many times, families are doubled up with another household to wait until a space becomes available. And, in some cases, parents and their children may be without any safe place to stay.
What happens then during a cold spell?
My job is to think about our work in early childhood development. It’s why I am passionate about ensuring that our most vulnerable population has access to high quality early learning experiences. The Administration for Children and Families efforts can be seen in multiple areas. My department, the Early Childhood Development Office works with all programs and projects to build high quality, successful early learning and development systems across Head Start, child care, and pre-K.
Study after study has shown that those who receive high quality early learning opportunities are more likely to succeed, starting in kindergarten and continuing through school and into adulthood. The foundation for this success must be laid early on in the birth to five years. A child’s readiness for school depends on meeting his/her comprehensive needs – physical and motor development, language and literacy, social and emotional development, approaches to learning and cognitive development.
It is why we actively participate in a Work Group on Ending Family Homelessness and work on early childhood development with other agencies and departments.
There is much research demonstrating how critical the early years are for child development. Look at our website to learn more about this area. There is also a growing body of research about the danger of young children’s ongoing exposure to stressful conditions.
We can’t do much about what Mother Nature bestows upon us, so we need to concentrate on what we can do for young children and their families. Investing in our young children birth to five is essential.
As we mark the 50th anniversary of President Johnson’s War on Poverty, we must think about our young children. The latest child poverty rate (22 percent, for 2012) is barely lower than it was when the War on Poverty began.
The National Center for Children in Poverty states that “Young children under age 6 appear to be particularly vulnerable with 46 percent living in low-income and 24 percent living in poor families.”
Will it take another 50 years to ensure that every child has a safe, stable place to sleep and a high quality learning environment?