Election Day is coming up, and adults across Connecticut will be casting their ballots based on the issues that matter most to them. Babies, however, don’t get a say in what comes next. So it’s up to us grownups to vote on their behalf.
What we know about the importance of early learning has changed drastically over the years. We used to think that a child’s education started when they entered kindergarten. Then, we began to recognize the value of preschool. Now, thanks to illuminating science on brain development, we know that education starts much earlier.
According to Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child, the majority of the brain is built in the first few years of life, when more than one million new neural connections are formed every second. Babies are born learning, and their early experiences have huge consequences throughout their lives, impacting their education, behavior, and health.
And yet, Connecticut has done a poor job of ensuring access to safe, nurturing, high-quality early learning environments for infants and toddlers. While we continue to invest in state-funded preschool, we have not made similar investments in infant and toddler care. Instead, we have relied on a limited, unstable child-care subsidy system—which has never been accessible to all families who need it —to support early care and education for our littlest learners. As a result, our public policies have left our youngest children behind, at the exact time when they need support most.
But we can change this narrative. We are at a unique moment of opportunity for early childhood in Connecticut. We have an Office of Early Childhood (OEC), one of the few state agencies in the country dedicated to administering all early childhood programs under one roof. We’ve invested in the nation’s first two-generation legislation, creating a pathway to family economic security by addressing the needs of children and parents simultaneously.
We are moving towards the implementation of a QRIS—a quality rating and improvement system—that can give families transparent information about how to find high-quality care. And, Connecticut has committed to supporting home-based child care—the backbone of infant and toddler care— by investing in staffed family child-care networks, which are proven to increase the quality and availability of licensed care.
At All Our Kin, we know the significance of these building blocks, but we also know that there’s more work to be done. For children to thrive, we need increased public funding for infant and toddler care, so that every baby receives safe, nurturing, early learning experiences. For parents to thrive, we need to invest in child care options—not only school-based pre-K, but also community-based and home-based child care—that meet the needs of today’s working parents, who increasingly work nontraditional hours. And for early childhood educators to thrive, we need to offer ongoing training and support so that they can continue to do this difficult, important work, and offer the highest-quality care to all of Connecticut’s children and families.
We know this because this is the work we do every day—increasing the quality, supply, and sustainability of child care for infants and toddlers through our nationally-recognized model for training and supporting home-based child care providers. We have proven that the benefits of investing in early care and education go beyond child outcomes. Our model enables parents to go to work with peace of mind about their children’s wellbeing, and has significant benefits to the regional economy. But we’re just one piece of a larger vision to support children, families, and child care providers.
No matter the results of the midterm elections, we cannot lose this critical moment to take bold action for Connecticut’s infants and toddlers. According to latest Census estimates, there are almost 183,000 children under the age of five in Connecticut. And while children can’t vote, their future will be determined, in large part, by policymakers’ decisions about how to invest our public dollars.
So, ask your candidates for elected office how they plan to ensure access to high-quality, affordable child care for all children, starting at birth. Ask them how they will promote economic security for families with infants and toddlers. Share your own experiences as a parent balancing work commitments with caring for a newborn, and tell them what supports new parents need.
Let’s be a big voice for little kids at the polls in November—we owe it to them to keep the momentum going.