April 22-28 marked the Week of the Young Child, an annual celebration which strives to focus public attention on the needs of young children and their families. Sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), it serves as a critical reminder that the “early years are learning years.” It raises awareness about the importance of early childhood education and recognizes the hard work of early childhood professionals.
Yet, despite the focus on early childhood education that the Week of the Young Child provides, a substantial sector of the early childhood community is still frequently overlooked: family child care providers. Home-based child care providers, both licensed and unlicensed, play a crucial role as teachers of Connecticut’s youngest and most vulnerable children. The majority of infants and toddlers are cared for in home-based settings, and children with socioeconomic risk factors are most likely to spend their days in family child care. These home-based programs are, therefore, essential to meeting the need for affordable infant and toddler care, as well as the need for care during nontraditional hours and culturally and linguistically consistent education.
Research clearly indicates that access to high-quality early education greatly improves a child’s ability to learn when they enter the school system. For all of us who are working to eradicate our nation’s largest opportunity and achievement gap right here in Connecticut; for all of us who care about equity — we must join together to invest in a coordinated system of early care and education that includes family child care.
This is why I am so pleased that Governor Malloy’s proposals for education reform include, not just early education, but family child care providers. Governor Malloy should be applauded for including family child care providers in the proposed Tiered Quality Rating and Improvement System (TQRIS), which would provide professional development opportunities for family child care providers and other educators, and give families better information about their child care choices. In doing so, Malloy ensures that Connecticut’s family child care providers will have access to opportunities and trainings that will enable them to meet the highest possible levels of quality, and gives them the ability to demonstrate that they can do so. Most importantly, by increasing quality, we provide more of Connecticut’s children with the foundation they need to succeed – both in school and in life.
As Connecticut strives to give all children the education they deserve, we must remember the crucial role that early childhood educators and family child care providers, play in putting our children on a path to success. We should celebrate these teachers, not just during the Week of the Young Child but during the rest of the year too.
Let’s make 2012 the year of the young child.