Lessons Learned from the State Advisory Councils’ Needs Assessments
By Ngozi Onunaku, Senior Policy Analyst for Early Childhood Development
As one of the required State Advisory Councils activities, states conducted statewide needs assessments on the quality and availability of care throughout the state. As expected, states approached the tasks differently, examining gaps and opportunities on a variety of measures. Examples of these measures include:
- Availability of slots in licensed child care, quality rated programs, and publicly funded pre-k, including those funded by the state, Title I, and Head Start;
- Cost of child care;
- State, federal, and private investments in early learning and development programs;
- Demographics and population trends of children from birth to five, including family living arrangements;
- Economic conditions for children birth to age five, including parents’ employment status, median family income and the poverty rate for children birth to five;
- Family risk factors, including homelessness, food insecurity, teen parents with low education attainment, child abuse and neglect;
- Children in families with multiple risk factors, including identifying “priority” or poverty zones
- Needs of dual language learners;
- Health and special needs factors, including the number of children without health care and the percent of infants and toddlers with Individualized Family Service Plans; and
- Education and training needs of the early childhood workforce, including number of credentialed early childhood providers at each credential level.
Despite their different approaches to measuring the gaps and opportunities in the state, over half of all councils consistently reported top priority areas they hope to focus on as next steps if resources are available.
One priority area is increasing access to high quality care opportunities for children by increasing the amount of slots and/or programs for children, including hard to reach populations (e.g. rural), or children with special needs.
Another area is expanding early childhood data collection systems or integrating early childhood data into already established statewide data systems, such as the Statewide Longitudinal Data System.
Councils prioritized providing effective consumer education to families and the general public about the importance of high quality care, how to find it, and overall awareness of early childhood development information.
Finally, councils raised strengthening the early childhood workforce by providing professional development opportunities and developing professional development systems as a high priority area.
ACF is developing a final report on the accomplishments of the councils and looks forward to sharing more in depth information on the impact of the councils on state early childhood systems this summer.