HELENA – A new report concluded that Americans as a nation are failing to invest enough in their children’s early years.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s latest policy report, “The First Eight Years: Giving Kids a Foundation,” said that children entering kindergarten with below-average language and cognition ability need effective practices and supportive measures to develop their social, emotional and learning skills.
“All children need nurturing and plentiful opportunities to develop during their crucial first eight years,” the foundation’s president, Patrick McCarthy, said. “Today’s complicated world can strain families’ ability to ensure their children are receiving all the stimulation and care they need to develop their full potential.”
The report discussed results from a new national analysis, the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, which tracked 13,000 children since they attended kindergarten starting in 1998-99.
Only 36 percent of the children were on track in the area of cognitive knowledge and skills upon reaching third grade, the analysis said.
However, it found a larger percentage of children were on track in other areas, including 56 percent in physical well-being, 70 percent in social and emotional growth, and 74 percent in school engagement.
The analysis found just 19 percent of third-graders in families with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level, and 50 percent of those from families with incomes above that level, had developed age-appropriate cognitive skills.
The results were more troubling for children of color, with 14 percent of black children and 19 percent of Hispanic children on track in cognitive development.
The foundation said this information is significant because children who don’t meet these key development guidelines often struggle to catch up in school and to graduate on time. They also have a tougher time becoming economically stable adults, the report said.
In Montana, about 60 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds attend preschool, which is slightly lower than the national average, according to Montana Kids Count, which receives grants from Annie E. Casey Foundation.
In addition, only 22 percent of Montana children younger than age 6 have received developmental screening, compared with 30 percent nationally.
Other Montana-related statistics cited are:
- Between 45 percent to 60 percent of Montana’s low-income children, ages 3 and 4, were not enrolled in preschool from 2009-2011.
- 51 percent of Montana children from birth to age 8 lived in families with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level in 2012.
- 25 percent of parents of children who are under age 6 are concerned about their child’s development.
- 79 percent of Montana’s children under age 6 have not received a developmental screener.
For children to succeed, the foundation called it vital that classroom learning be integrated with other aspects of child development to create opportunities for children to develop the full array of competencies they will need in life.
Many states and communities have already started bringing programs and services for young children and families into a cohesive system.
Thale Dillon, director of Montana Kids Count, said the state is making great strides in this area.
“The Best Beginnings Advisory Council was established in 2011 by the Early Childhood Services Bureau, and it serves as the collaborating entity for the entire early childhood system in the state,” she said. The council is part of the state Department of Public Health and Human Services.
This council has representatives from a wide range of integrated constituency groups, Dillon said, and its work focuses on creating a statewide plan for a comprehensive early childhood services program.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation had these overall policy recommendations:
- Support parents so they can effectively care and provide for their children.
- Increase access to high-quality integrated programs for children from birth to age 8, starting with investments that target low-income children.
- Develop comprehensive, integrated programs and data systems to address all aspects of children’s development and support their transition to elementary school and related programs for school-aged children.