What We Promote

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Improving Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten in Florida

In 2002, voters passed a constitutional amendment to offer free, voluntary pre-kindergarten programs to every 4-year-old in Florida. More than 175,000 children now participate in VPK, costing about $400 million annually. VPK was started with a tight timetable and limited budget, resulting in Florida ranking 39th out of 41 states in pupil funding. While Florida has a solid foundation, enhancements to the current model — which covers only three class hours per day — would help the state more fully deliver on the promise of a high-quality preschool education.

Economic analyses highlight both short- and long-term financial benefits of investments in high-quality preschool programs – documenting that investment pays for itself many times over. However, state funding today is actually less than the $2,500-per-child allocation when VPK began 10 years ago.

Expanding early learning initiatives would provide benefits to society of roughly $8.60 for every $1 spent, about half of which comes from increased earnings for children when they grow up, according to a recent analysis by the President’s Council of Economic Advisers.

With 90 percent of brain development occurring during the first five years of life, early learning experiences set the foundation for lifelong success. Experts report that children who participate in high-quality early childhood programs are more likely to exhibit self-control, have better social skills, and be less disruptive in the classroom.

Dr. James Heckman, Nobel Laureate in economics from the University of Chicago, sums up decades of research on fostering human capital as follows: “The real question is how to use the available funds wisely. The best evidence supports the policy prescription: Invest in the very young.”

Floridians recognized the value of early investment when they voted for VPK in 2002. To fulfill the promise of that decision, the state must increase funding; the accountability system must be revised; and the data management system must be completed. By phasing in these recommendations over time, Florida can ensure young children start school better prepared for success.

Parenting Skill Building

Parents play the most central and formative role in their children’s lives. The importance of loving, responsive and caring adults is key to children’s healthy development. But parenting can be stressful, frustrating and confusing. Oftentimes questions and concerns arise, but not everyone has trusted sources for the answers they need. The Movement has and will continue to work to make parent skill-building information available statewide – through both 24-hour phone lines and the Internet.

Babies begin processing the world from the moment they are born and their brains rapidly develop — or fail to develop — in response to the stimulation they receive. Research and experience now prove that high-quality information for parents can make a difference for all families.

Parent initiatives can help increase their knowledge of child development, provide examples of safe and healthy things to do with children, build skills for managing the rigors of parenting, and, in more intensive initiatives, provide support during challenging times.

A number of parent skill-building courses have calculated the benefits of participation, comparing the outcomes of participants to non-participants. More intensive programs have documented that for every dollar spent on a parent-skill program, taxpayers can save $3 in later costs for treatment or remediation, with almost $6 saved for every dollar that assists high-risk mothers.

To help parents with the early development and effective nurturing of their children, we must continue to expand and publicize Help Me Grow Florida, a 2-1-1 phone network of trained staffers ready to help. Those services are available at no fee to families. In addition, the Help Me Grow website in available 104 languages, including English, Spanish and Creole.

While young children’s development research has exploded in the last two decades, many parents are often are unaware of it. As a consequence, we must make developmental information available to families through regular emails based on their child’s birth date.

Health Insurance

More than 283,000 Florida children do not have health insurance — the third largest number in the nation. Because of that, they do not receive adequate care, do not seek prompt treatment when they are ill, and when they do enter a hospital, are 1.5 times as likely to die there as are insured children. Working with others to address this problem, The Movement is engaging in cost-effective targeted enrollment efforts in the Florida KidCare program, particularly through school-based efforts and a local grassroots outreach campaign.

The inability to make health insurance accessible to Florida’s most vulnerable citizens is not acceptable. Now is the time for action to provide quality, coordinated health care for all its children.

When we allow almost one of every 15 Florida children to languish without coverage, we not only compromise their health, but also hinder their chance at success in life. Research shows that those with better childhood health earn and save more money, are more productive, and are less dependent on welfare and public subsidies.

Children without health insurance will not only miss out on opportunities to succeed in the future – they also are taking a toll on our state’s economy today. Uninsured children tend to visit the hospital more often for problems that could have been avoided through adequate primary care, and they are less successful in school.

Here are two ways to fix this:

  • We must insure all of Florida’s children. Most of Florida’s uninsured children are already eligible for Florida KidCare, our state’s health insurance program for children without private insurance, but many parents don’t know that their children are eligible or may not know how to enroll in the program. We must launch a grassroots and mass media effort to make sure that all of Florida’s families have the facts about KidCare and, if eligible, can enroll. We also must expand KidCare eligibility to children of state employees and to families that earn 201-300 percent of the federal poverty line in order to take advantage of federal funding and enroll more kids.
  • We must make sure that children have what is called a “medical home.” This means having a provider who knows the child, has access to health records, and who can make sure that care is coordinated. Coordinated care cuts down on costs, both by improving prevention and by limiting duplicative care. North Carolina launched a coordinated care effort several years ago that saved the state an astounding $231 million for fiscal years 2005 and 2006.

Special Needs

Many children show signs of a developmental or behavioral delay. With early identification and intervention, we can maximize the child’s lifelong potential. Information and support – online, by phone and through organizations such as Help Me Grow, Early Steps and Child Find – are needed to help parents through these challenges.

Unfortunately, many do not know how or where to find help. Together, we must put this information at parents’ fingertips if there’s reason to be concerned.

Florida’s future depends on its children, and so we have an obligation to help them develop to their full potential.However, the approach to helping children receive accurate screenings and services is sometimes inadequate.

This failure to assist those children adds to the economic burden on Florida’s families. These costs will only grow in the future, when today’s children may fail to develop into successful adults.

Untreated developmental and behavioral delays also incur long-term costs. Children who do not receive early identification and intervention have more difficulty succeeding in life and are more likely to get into trouble.

Estimates indicate that early screening and treatment of children with developmental and behavioral delays can save $30,000 to $100,000 per child over the long run.

Research by The Washington Economics Group shows that every dollar spent by the state to improve the health and well-being of children creates an aggregate total of $4.55 in economic output. That is a return of 455 percent on investment.

We must expand the availability of services such as Early StepsChild Find and Help Me Grow to prevent children from slipping through the cracks. Florida must address these persistent issues: The absence of statewide coordination of services and funding. The failure to share best interventions. Service gaps. No assurance of timely access to service. Insufficient high-quality data to evaluate outcomes.

We must create a single entity that represents parents, state agencies, child development experts and providers and that works to develop a database of best interventions, existing services and eligibility, geographic coverage and evaluation data.

With common-sense investment, Florida can transform itself into a state that leads the nation in promoting healthy children, giving them the tools they need and deserve to achieve success in life.

Mentoring

Mentoring programs connect children with caring adults and create the structure for a nurturing relationship. The Movement, working with partners from around the state and through the support of longtime early-childhood advocates Carol and Barney Barnett of Lakeland, launched ?ReadingPals ?in fall 2011 ?as ?an early learning and mentoring initiative focused on? literacy.

The goal: Provide mentors from the private sector ?for children from VPK to third grade. Volunteers must commit to one hour a week for at least 25 weeks ?to ?ensure more child?ren are reading at grade level ?by third grade.

We continue to push this call for volunteers vigorously through ?15 regions and the almost 100,000 Floridians we communicate with weekly. We would seek community volunteers from all walks of life throughout this state.

All children need caring adults in their lives to offer guidance, serve as role models, give emotional support and provide new experiences. Research shows these ongoing relationships result in increased school attendance, increased graduation rates, reduced use of alcohol and illegal drugs, improved attitudes toward the future, and lower levels of problem behaviors such as bullying.

Such involvement may be especially important for at-risk children who often live in more stressful environments. Return-on-investment studies have estimated a return of $4.89 for every $1 invested in mentoring programs, with some studies showing returns as high as $8.18 for closely targeted programs to reduce property crimes among high-risk yout?h.?

A highly cost-effective strategy, mentoring can make a tremendous difference for our youth. Florida has been the national leader in mentoring and can reestablish this position through focus, sustained leadership and funding. This investment has the potential to improve dramatically the prospects of young people in Florida. Join ReadingPals today to help make a difference in the lives of children in need.