Our Jewish tradition teaches that raising and educating children are among our highest concerns. Recent neuroscience research tells us that prenatal nutrition and healthcare and the care and education of children from birth to age three are the most important determinants of a child’s future productiveness and success in school and later life. Development of not only linguistic and cognitive skills, but also social and emotional competence (including comportment, motivation and persistence) essential for later socio-economic success takes place at this time.
Important early child care and education (ECCE) programs include federal and state Head Start and Early Head Start as well as services provided or supported by school districts, for-profit and non-profit organizations, faith-based organizations, foundations, trusts, businesses, individual philanthropists, and others.
To be most effective, quality ECCE programs must include:
- Access to quality, affordable health care and proper nutrition for parent and child,
- Early stimulation and education for young children (including home-based stimulation, preschool, playgroup, and day care), and
- Education and support of parents in parenting skills, the importance of proper healthcare and nutrition, and other helpful information.
Early screening and detection of health and developmental problems, access to combined parent-child programs for families with difficulties, well-trained staff, appropriate staff-child ratios that foster learning, and other features of a quality program are also important.
Independent academic research on Head Start, Early Head Start, and other preschool care and education programs demonstrates that the effects of comprehensive early intervention services include:
- Improved verbal and intellectual development in early childhood
- Improved school performance thereafter
- Fewer school dropouts
- Less grade repetition
- Fewer children assigned to special education
- Fewer young adults involved in antisocial behavior or incarceration
- Greater productivity and earnings during adulthood
- Fewer subsequent births for parents of enrolled children
- Improved father-child relationships.
Leading economists have concluded that these programs are an urgently needed, highly cost-effective means to fight poverty because:
- The ability gap between the advantaged and the disadvantaged opens up very early in children’s lives.
- If a child is not motivated and stimulated to learn and engage early on in life, it is more likely that when the child becomes an adult he/she will fail in social and economic accomplishments.
- Many major economic and social problems such as crime, teenage pregnancy, dropping out of high school and adverse health conditions can be traced to low levels of skill and ability.
- The high school dropout rate is increasing, reaching nearly 30% annually despite an increase in the percentage of college graduates.
Therefore the community relations field should:
- Educate the Jewish community, the general public and public officials on the effectiveness of very early, quality ECCE programs, with the characteristics indicated above, for all lower-income and other underserved children to reduce poverty, special and remedial education costs, racial and ethnic achievement gaps, drop-outs and subsequent incarcerations and to increase our workforce productivity and GDP.
- Urge the federal administration and Congress, the states, school districts, for-profit and non-profit organizations, faith-based organizations, foundations, trusts, businesses, individual philanthropists, and others to create and implement quality ECCE programs to serve more families and, at the same time, to maintain per-pupil spending, encourage higher standards, train providers, raise their compensation, and support continuing research and evaluation of ECCE programs.
- Participate in coalitions to expand the availability of quality ECCE services to all lower-income and all children to whom such services are not otherwise available though education, service, and advocacy.