Reflecting on 25 Years of the KIDS COUNT Data Book: Quality Child Care for Working Families (1998)

Posted February 5, 2015
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog Quality Child Carefor Working Families 2015

The 1996 wel­fare reform law that her­ald­ed an end wel­fare as we know it” posed a sin­gu­lar chal­lenge for poor fam­i­lies, espe­cial­ly those head­ed by sin­gle moth­ers: how to ensure chil­dren would be well cared for when their par­ents entered work­force train­ing or jobs.

For mil­lions fac­ing time lim­its on assis­tance and dead­lines to get and keep jobs, the need for qual­i­ty child care amounts to a prac­ti­cal imper­a­tive,” declared the Casey Foundation’s 1998 KIDS COUNT Data Book essay. If we fail to pro­vide chil­dren from low-income fam­i­lies with qual­i­ty child care that nur­tures their cog­ni­tive and social devel­op­ment, then we will have com­pro­mised the effort to reform wel­fare, and we will risk los­ing a vital seg­ment of anoth­er gen­er­a­tion,” said the report, Mak­ing Qual­i­ty Child Care a Real­i­ty for America’s Low-Income Work­ing Families.”

Flash for­ward to 2014. Casey issues a KIDS COUNT pol­i­cy report that empha­sizes the need for reli­able child care in today’s econ­o­my and why it is so crit­i­cal for chil­dren in low-income fam­i­lies to have high qual­i­ty ear­ly learn­ing expe­ri­ences. But the report, Cre­at­ing Oppor­tu­ni­ties for Fam­i­lies: a Two-Gen­er­a­tion Approach, goes fur­ther. It main­tains that the nation can no longer afford to sep­a­rate the sup­port chil­dren need from the chal­lenges their par­ents face if we want either to succeed.

Not­ing that par­ents’ eco­nom­ic and edu­ca­tion­al bar­ri­ers can have a major impact on children’s futures, the report ques­tions the effec­tive­ness of dis­parate pro­grams and fund­ing streams address­ing child and par­ent needs sep­a­rate­ly, often with con­flict­ing require­ments. It pro­motes col­lab­o­ra­tive efforts to boost par­ents’ finan­cial sta­bil­i­ty while pro­vid­ing high qual­i­ty ear­ly child­hood edu­ca­tion and par­ent­ing support.

In many ways, these two KIDS COUNT reports embody the evo­lu­tion of the Foundation’s think­ing and invest­ments in child care over the past 25 years. 

We are advanc­ing many of the same kinds of rec­om­men­da­tions we did in 1998, but we are focused on build­ing evi­dence that a two-gen­er­a­tion approach can be suc­cess­ful and will accel­er­ate out­comes for both chil­dren and par­ents beyond what hap­pens when we only focus on only one or the oth­er,” notes Amoret­ta Mor­ris, a senior asso­ciate for Fam­i­ly-Cen­tered Com­mu­ni­ty Change, a two-gen­er­a­tion effort build­ing on com­mu­ni­ty devel­op­ment ini­tia­tives in three cities.

Back in 2001, a Newark, New Jer­sey-based child care provider called Baby­land Fam­i­ly Ser­vices Inc., was hon­ored in Casey’s Fam­i­lies Count” awards pro­gram. It encom­passed par­ent­ing and adult edu­ca­tion class­es, job train­ing, after-school pro­grams, a domes­tic vio­lence shel­ter, fos­ter care ser­vices and help con­nect­ing par­ents to job oppor­tu­ni­ties. We rec­og­nized that fam­i­ly ser­vices were extreme­ly impor­tant to the devel­op­ment of chil­dren,” notes Wes­ley Jenk­ins, Babyland’s exec­u­tive director. 

Casey’s deep­en­ing involve­ment in ear­ly child­hood issues has coin­cid­ed with grow­ing evi­dence of the impact of ear­ly expe­ri­ences and tox­ic stress” on the devel­op­ing brain and data rein­forc­ing the eco­nom­ic return on invest­ments in high qual­i­ty ear­ly years pro­grams. Through its Jobs and Mak­ing Con­nec­tions ini­tia­tives, we also rec­og­nized how crit­i­cal child care qual­i­ty and acces­si­bil­i­ty are to any effort aimed at strength­en­ing the eco­nom­ic sta­tus of fam­i­lies,” notes Bob Giloth, vice pres­i­dent of the Cen­ter for Com­mu­ni­ty and Eco­nom­ic Opportunity.

The Foundation’s work evolved from pro­mot­ing child care access and qual­i­ty to ded­i­cat­ing sig­nif­i­cant invest­ments and staff time to devel­op­ing and sup­port­ing pro­grams that have a two-gen­er­a­tion focus,” notes Lisa Kane, a for­mer Casey senior asso­ciate who is now a senior con­sul­tant to the Cam­paign for Grade-Lev­el Read­ing, which has gar­nered nation­wide atten­tion and resources to ear­ly lit­er­a­cy as a path­way to aca­d­e­m­ic suc­cess. Casey’s two-gen­er­a­tion invest­ments have cre­at­ed a plat­form not just to address bar­ri­ers to qual­i­ty child care but to pro­mote ear­ly edu­ca­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ties for chil­dren while con­nect­ing par­ents to the work­force,” says Kane.

Exam­ples include: 

  • The Atlanta Civic Site is chart­ing improved out­comes for chil­dren and par­ents as a result of its com­pre­hen­sive ear­ly learn­ing com­plex linked with the Dun­bar Ele­men­tary School and The Cen­ter for Work­ing Fam­i­lies, Inc., which work togeth­er to involve par­ents in their children’s learn­ing and to con­nect par­ents to train­ing, edu­ca­tion, job oppor­tu­ni­ties and benefits.
  • Ear­ly child­hood edu­ca­tion, mater­nal and child health, par­ent­ing sup­port and work­force devel­op­ment have all been inte­gral to Casey’s invest­ments in the Bal­ti­more Civic Site. A cen­ter­piece of the East Bal­ti­more revi­tal­iza­tion effort that Casey has backed in part­ner­ship with Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­si­ty and oth­ers is the Hen­der­son-Hop­kins school and Har­ry and Jeanette Wein­berg Ear­ly Child­hood Learn­ing Cen­ter, which offer broad child and fam­i­ly support. 
  • Casey’s Fam­i­ly-Cen­tered Com­mu­ni­ty Change effort is work­ing with the Promise Neigh­bor­hoods ini­tia­tive in San Anto­nio and Buf­fa­lo and the Wein­land Park Col­lab­o­ra­tive in Colum­bus, Ohio to test the effec­tive­ness of a two-gen­er­a­tion strat­e­gy embed­ded in an exist­ing com­mu­ni­ty change effort. 
  • The Foun­da­tion is also work­ing with com­mu­ni­ty action pro­gram (CAP) agen­cies and Head Start pro­grams in four sites to blend finan­cial­ly focused ser­vices for par­ents, par­ent­ing sup­port and ear­ly child­hood pro­grams for young chil­dren of low-income par­ents. Part­ners include CAP agen­cies and non­prof­its in New York City; Gar­rett Coun­ty, Mary­land; Atlanta; and Tulsa.

Casey also part­ners with orga­ni­za­tions that pro­vide research, pol­i­cy analy­sis and shar­ing of best prac­tices on two-gen­er­a­tion strate­gies, such as the Cen­ter for Law and Social Pol­i­cy, Urban Insti­tute, Aspen Insti­tute and Alliance for Ear­ly Suc­cess. The Foun­da­tion helped sup­port research cit­ed in a spe­cial issue of The Future of Chil­dren, pub­lished in the spring of 2014, focus on two-gen­er­a­tion strategies.

A key chal­lenge in mea­sur­ing their suc­cess is deter­min­ing how edu­ca­tion, health, employ­ment and oth­er fac­tors affect child and fam­i­ly out­comes. We need to get more effi­cient around inte­grat­ing data across silos,” notes Cindy Guy, the Foundation’s direc­tor of research and eval­u­a­tion. Casey is sup­port­ing a three-year effort by the Nation­al Neigh­bor­hood Indi­ca­tors Project and Urban Insti­tute to expand inte­grat­ed data sys­tems in six sites. 

While it is too ear­ly to gauge the impact of the newest two-gen­er­a­tion efforts, there is plen­ty of evi­dence that one-gen­er­a­tion inter­ven­tions don’t make the kind of pow­er­ful improve­ments we need,” notes Guy. High qual­i­ty child devel­op­ment pro­grams work, but their impact tends to wash off over time with­out broad­er fam­i­ly interventions.”

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