The Onondaga Citizens League released a report calling attention to a serious lack of investment in the community’s youngest children. The report, entitled “Thrive by Five,” acknowledges the fact that New York State is making provisions to improve kindergarten and Pre-K but warns that officials have failed to place enough emphasis on the earliest developmental stages. Laurie Black, Co-chair of the report, is concerned that steps to prepare kids for years of learning - and for life - are happening too late in the development process.
“We need to make sure we’re doing zero and prenatal right in order to make four year olds successful. So that’s really the shift you’ll see in this study is we’re not solely focused on universal Pre-K, but we need to talk about our programs and our systems and support of children from zero to three.”
The report also mentions that by the time a child turns five, his or her brain is already at 90% of its adult capacity with the fastest period of growth occurring in the first year of life. Sherry Cleary of the New York State Early Childhood Council believes the data in “Thrive By Five” is too important to ignore and that there is an opportunity to help so many young people find success in life.
“We pretty much leave a lot to chance,” said Cleary, “and what [the] report starts to talk about is how you’re not going to do that anymore. That you’re going to take responsibility for who these children are even if you don’t know their names or they don’t live in your house.”
Cleary is also aware of the long-term regional effects associated with education and that the economic future of New York State depends on strong – and sensible – investments in education for the state’s young people. Especially in areas of the state that are struggling, Cleary believes that children are a priceless resource that cannot be allowed to go to waste.
Some recommendations included in the report are:
- Supporting state and local calls for full-day Universal Pre-K for all low-income families in the county
- Develop a universal kindergarten readiness measure that identifies the skills children need to be ready for school and that measures the effectiveness of the community in preparing children
- Expand Early Head Start and other high quality infant and child care programs that work with children and families in the earliest years
- Facilitate stronger relationships between families and other care providers and local public libraries, which provide services and materials free of charge to all county residents
- Commit to a universal parent education program that lets parents know that small and simple things make a big difference in a child's development
- Expand home visitation programs with the goal of universal home visitation for new parents most at risk of experiencing difficulties with a newborn
- Invest in more high quality home visitation services including expansions to Nurse - Family Partnership and Early Head Start programs to ensure healthy home environments
- Pediatricians and other health practitioners throughout the County should be engaged in discussions of the critical role they play in identifying at-risk parents and children and identifying young children who would benefit from early intervention programs
- Develop an aggressive campaign to educate on postpartum depression and to provide help to caregivers impacted by depression
- Expand awareness of young children's mental health and the coordination and availability of mental health interventions for caregivers and children in the earliest years