A new year, a renewed commitment to policies that benefit Connecticut’s children and caregivers

Many members of our state’s early childhood community were disappointed that the federal government chose not to fund Connecticut’s ambitious Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge Grant application last month. Despite this setback, there’s reason to be excited about the prospects for improving opportunities for Connecticut’s children in 2014. Here are some of the great ideas that we need to continue working toward in the coming year:

Last year, the Office of Early Childhood was created through Governor Dannel Malloy’s executive order. The OEC fills a pressing need for coordination and transparency in statewide policies that affect young children, families, and caregivers. In 2014, we must ensure that the OEC is written into statute so that it can assume a permanent role as an advocate and leader on early childhood issues.

Connecticut also made great progress last year toward unifying standards that support children’s development in all settings. The State Department of Education and the Early Childhood Education Cabinet recently released Connecticut’s new Early Learning and Development Standards, which are comprehensive and multi-domain standards designed to help families, educators, and communities support development of children birth through age five. In September of last year, a workgroup presented a draft Early Childhood Workforce Core Knowledge and Competency Framework to the Early Childhood Education Cabinet. This framework, once finalized, will outline a unified set of expectations for what early childhood educators should know and be able to accomplish. We are very pleased that both of these documents recognize the importance of supporting all early childhood educators—including family child care providers—in their work with children.

Throughout 2013, the CSEA-SEIU Local 2001 engaged in negotiations with the state to increase caregivers’ compensation. Currently, caregivers serving our state’s most vulnerable children are reimbursed at very low rates—subsidies are set at just 60 percent of the 2001 market rate. When caregivers aren’t adequately compensated, their stress levels are higher and it’s less likely that they will be able to remain in the childcare industry. The result: it’s more difficult for them to create high-quality programs. Increasing caregiver compensation must be a priority in 2014.

We also must continue to create professional development opportunities for providers, especially home-based providers. If we want to give our children the key early learning experiences they need to develop, we must invest in the caregivers who help lay the foundation for their later success. Working at home ten to twelve hours a day, home-based providers are often isolated from professional development opportunities that will help them improve their program quality. In 2013, several innovative professional development programs specifically targeted family child care providers. All Our Kin’s Circle of Security Program and the State Department of Education and Capital Region Education Council’s Raising Readers Home-Based Child Care Providers Program are two examples of such programs. In the coming year, we must continue and expand such initiatives to ensure that home-based providers are equipped to support children’s cognitive, emotional, and social growth.

Finally, in order to call out and incentivize quality, we must implement Connecticut’s planned Tiered Quality Rating and Improvement System (TQRIS). The TQRIS model lays out clear standards and incentives for providers to enhance program quality and creates greater transparency for families seeking quality choices for their children. Over the last two years, Connecticut has worked to develop a TQRIS system, ConneCT to Quality, that offers standards inclusive of both center-based and family child care providers. The rollout of this system will offer an important opportunity to raise the level of quality across Connecticut’s child care settings.

The arrival of the new year offers a chance to reflect on last year’s accomplishments and redouble our commitment to improving opportunities for our state’s children in the coming year. Connecticut has come so far in 2013. We look forward to working with you to take even greater strides in 2014.

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