Blog

By Marsha Basloe, President, and Linda Chappel, Sr. Vice President, Child Care Services Association

This past week, Durham PreK’s new website launched as a place for Durham County families to find information about enrolling 4-year-old children in Durham PreK, to find other local resources related to early childhood development and to learn about Durham’s commitment to equitable, high-quality education for all young children.

What is Durham PreK?

Durham PreK classrooms are located in private child care centers, Durham Public Schools and Head Start classrooms. With funding from the Durham County Board of Commissioners, the intent is to both enhance the quality of preschool programs and expand the number of children served through state and federally funded preschool programs. The goal is universal public PreK for all Durham County 4-year-old children – with preschool services offered for free for families with income at or below 300% of the federal poverty threshold and a sliding fee scale for families with income above 300% of poverty.

Why is pre-K important for young children?

Studies show that children who attend full-day high-quality pre-K programs are much more likely to start school with the skills to succeed, much more likely to perform at grade level and much more likely to graduate high school. A 2017 State of Durham County’s Young Children report found that only 38% of Durham children entering kindergarten had preliteracy skills at grade level (i.e., 62% of Durham children started kindergarten behind).

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction recently released third-grade end of year test scores for those children who were in kindergarten in 2014-2015. For Durham, the gaps in grade level reading are enormous – by income, by race and by ethnicity. It’s easy to connect the dots. When children don’t start kindergarten ready to succeed, despite remediation efforts, the competency gaps remain. Children don’t fall behind in third grade, they start behind in kindergarten.

We can do better to prepare our children for school (and life)

That’s the message behind Durham PreK. Child Care Services Association is the management agency for Durham PreK and works collaboratively with Durham County Government, Durham’s Partnership for Children, Durham Public Schools, Durham Head Start and numerous other community partners to expand access to high-quality pre-K classrooms for Durham’s 4-year-olds.

County funding is used to not only serve more children but also to broaden eligibility for children to participate and to work with teachers and private centers to strengthen their quality through teacher and director support, mentoring and coaching. Going beyond licensing standards and NC Pre-K standards, Durham PreK provides instruction and coaching to strengthen the interactions between teachers and children.

Research shows that gains made across child development domains are higher when teacher interactions are more effective, intentional and geared toward the development of critical thinking skills and social-emotional development in children.[1]

Using the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS®)

The professional development tool used in Durham PreK is called the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS®) developed by the University of Virginia and used in 23 state quality rating and improvement systems, many state and local public pre-K programs, and by every Head Start program across the country.[2]

CLASS is both an assessment system and a professional development coaching system. Studies have consistently demonstrated greater gains by children (including dual language learning children) in key areas of school readiness – including literacy, math, social-emotional development and self-regulation when children are in classrooms with more effective teacher-child interactions. International research demonstrates the validity of CLASS across a broad set of cultural contexts.[3]

Offering braided funding options

What makes Durham PreK unique is the community has all leaned in to make a difference for children. Where possible, funding is braided so a mix of funding supports classrooms, which promotes greater diversity among participating children. Every child receives a developmental screening, and screening results, general program eligibility, parent preference and distance from home are all taken into consideration during the child placement process.

For programs to be eligible to participate in Durham PreK, they must be a 5-star rated child care center, lead pre-K teachers must have a bachelor’s degree and either have or be working toward a Birth to Kindergarten license. Onsite curriculum implementation support, professional development and education planning, teacher improvement strategies tied to CLASS®, leadership development for program directors and other supports for continuous quality improvement are provided.

Durham PreK’s plan to expand

Estimates are that there are about 4,450 4-year-old children in Durham.[4]  In the 2019-2020 school year, the intent is for 1,200 children to participate in public pre-K, an increase of about 245 children from last year. The overall goal over the next few years is to expand each year so that Durham PreK will be available to all families with 4-year-old children who choose to participate.

There are still some open spots for children. If you have a child who turned 4-years-old by August 31 or if you know a family with a 4-year-old, let them know – Durham PreK is open for business. To complete an application, call 919-403-6960 to speak to a coordinator (bilingual support is available), or you can download the Universal Preschool Application here

If we all lean in, all our children can enter kindergarten ready to succeed!


[1] Effective Teacher-Child Interactions and Child Outcomes: A Summary of Research on the Classroom  Assessment  Scoring System (CLASS®) Pre-K–3rd Grade (2017).

[2] CLASS®: A Leading QRIS Standard (2019).

[3] Teachstone research summary (2019)

[4] Voluntary, Universal Pre-kindergarten in Durham County How Do We Get There From Here? By Durham’s Community Early Education/Preschool Task Force.

Written by Jennifer Gioia, CCSA Communications Manager

Both Kellie Brower, director of The Goddard School of Chapel Hill for two years, and Valerie Morris, owner and director of Beginning Visions Child Development Center & School in Alamance County for 20 years, had to recently recertify their centers. Both turned to the Infant-Toddler Quality Enhancement Project (ITQEP) for help.

Kellie “didn’t feel comfortable enough to lead the faculty” of her center into recertification on her own and reached out to Amanda Hazen, one of the infant-toddler specialists at ITQEP. When Valerie’s center needed recertification, ITQEP reached out to her, and she found it to be very helpful. Whether it’s two years or 20 years, ITQEP is there to assist even the most seasoned directors and staff achieve quality infant-toddler care.

What is the Infant-Toddler Quality Enhancement Project?

In 2004, the NC Division of Child Development and Early Education, in collaboration with the NC Resources and Referral Council, established the statewide Infant-Toddler Quality Enhancement Project (ITQEP). Operated by Child Care Services Association (CCSA), the NC ITQEP supports the development of higher quality infant and toddler classrooms in all of North Carolina’s 100 counties by providing specially trained infant-toddler specialists across the state for coaching, mentoring and consultation to teachers and directors of early care and education centers.

How Does the Infant-Toddler Quality Enhancement Project Help Child Care Directors?

“[ITQEP] helped us get ready for stars,” Kellie said. “With the new rules that have come out, [ITQEP] explained them and provided suggestions to get us over the hump…Honestly, they are my first point of contact whenever I have any questions. They have been seriously amazing. Always get back to me quickly, it never takes them long at all. They always seem to be available and happy to help, so it’s been really great.”

The NC Division of Child Development and Early Education issues star rated licenses to all eligible child care centers and family child care homes based on indicators of a program’s quality of care and education.[1] Child care programs can receive one to five stars. The star-rated license acts as a “roadmap” for providers to follow as they strive to improve the quality of their care.[2]

“Honestly, I would say them helping us with the stars rating [has been my favorite], because it is such a taxing procedure, and I can’t do it all by myself,” Kellie said. “Having that extra support means the world to me. It’s worth it to have them come in and be an outsider to look in, you know, to see what they see, because sometimes I’ll go into a classroom 15 times and I won’t see the things that they see, because that is something that I’m looking at every day.”

“I want to make sure we’re doing the right thing and we’re staying up to date,” Valerie said. “The rules and regulations, especially with the [ITERS] scales, change so much and so often that sometimes I have to get outside help to come in and remind me of things to keep me on top of the game.”

In order for programs to achieve a higher star rating, they must be accessed with the environment rating scale, which measures both quality and education. The Infant-Toddler Environment Rating Scale (ITERS) assesses child care programs for children birth to 2 ½ years of age.

“Definitely by far, [ITQEP] has been my favorite service,” Valerie said. “Amanda has been very thorough and very consistent. She finished the whole thing. Sometimes I have people come and it seems like we lose contact, but Amanda went out of her way and followed up to the end, and still after that, she contacts me regularly to ask me if I need anything, or if I have any questions, or to share an update she learned…She’s very enlightening.”

How do Teachers Apply the Infant-Toddler Quality Enhancement Project in the Classroom?

Knowing the reasons why, and not only how, are just as important for teachers when applying new lessons and suggestions from infant-toddler specialists in the classroom. “We had a question about an infant diaper changing procedure,” said Kellie. ITQEP specialists visited and “[made] it easier for me to give our teachers why we’re doing it and how we’re doing it. It’s just easier to apply in the classroom if I also have reasons why.”

“[ITQEP has] been really informative,” Kellie said. “Every time they come in, they are giving us something, whether it is tips and tricks, suggestions, encouragements, which is great, but it’s also nice because even if they’re just giving information to me, I can easily train the staff… then they always follow-up to make sure that we’ve been able to implement their suggestions, and if we weren’t, they come up with new suggestions.”

“[ITQEP Specialist Amanda] created an art carrier for the young ones, the ones that are one turning into the age when they have art,” Valerie said. “She made a little carrier so it would be easier to pull it out and put it back up. Sometimes with the older toddlers, we would leave the art out, but it would kind of make a mess, so she said you don’t have to leave it out all the time, put it in this carrier and it’s easy. You can pull it out when you’re ready to use it, as long as you make it accessible to them for an hour or so a day.”

“[ITQEP Specialists also] helped us redo the schedule to make the teachers’ schedule run smoother, so they wouldn’t have to do so much hand washing,” Valerie said. “Let’s go outside, come straight in and wash hands, and then sit at the table, rather than coming in, washing hands, playing for a little bit and then washing hands again and sitting down. It saves us some time.”

Kellie has also noticed a change in her how her teachers relate to the children.

“I’ve just noticed so much more focus on tummy time and [our teachers] understand why it’s important to physical development,” Kellie said. “Language was something that some of our teachers were struggling with because they had also come from ECERS classes and they just didn’t know how to relate to the younger children. So, I’ve also noticed a huge difference in the language between the teachers and the children, which has been great.”

“[ITQEP specialists] genuinely have the best interest of the infants and toddlers at heart,” Kellie said. “There’s never a question of what is important to them. But you can see in their attitude and their professionalism that infant-toddlers are always their focus, and they want them to grow up and be socially, emotionally, physically and academically developed well…[The ITQEP has] been amazing and invaluable, honestly, to me as the director and also to our staff.”

To continue supporting the operations of Child Care Services Association and crucial programs such as the Infant-Toddler Quality Enhancement Project, please donate today.


Sources:

[1] The North Carolina Division of Child Development and Early Education. https://ncchildcare.ncdhhs.gov/Services/Licensing/Star-Rated-License/star-rated-license

[2] Smart Start of Forsyth County. https://smartstart-fc.org/star-rating-system-your-child/

Written by Jennifer Gioia, CCSA Communications Manager, and Colleen Burns, CCSA Summer 2019 Communications Intern, UNC-Chapel Hill

Lynette Mitchell has been the director and owner of Harvest Learning Center in Chapel Hill, NC for 15 years. She is in her first year as a Shape NC site. In the video above, Lynette talks about how she’s involved the parents of her center with Shape NC.

Shape NC is a program implemented by CCSA in partnership with Smart Start that aims to increase the number of children starting kindergarten at a healthy weight. The program promotes healthy eating and active play for children from birth-5 years old by working with child care programs to instill healthy behaviors early on, creating a solid foundation for a healthy life.

CCSA’s Communications Manager, Jennifer Gioia, sat down with Lynette to find out how her experience has been with Shape NC thus far.

Jennifer:  How did your center hear about Shape NC?

Lynette:  Swanda [Shape NC Technical Assistant] called me into the office one day and said, ‘Listen, we have a great program that we think your center might enjoy and qualify for.’ Once she described how it worked, I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, most definitely sign us up. We want to be a part of that.’ We feel like we can grow and become a better center through this program.

Jennifer:  So, it was personal face-to-face outreach?

Lynette:  Definitely. I didn’t know about the other sites. Now that I’ve been in the program, I look for them. I actually was Googling the other day and saw there were several Shape NC programs across the state that have been highlighted in their local newspapers. At first, I thought Shape NC was great just on the criteria alone, but now I see it’s truly a significant program and the community recognizes it statewide for what it provides.

Jennifer:  What resources has Shape NC provided your center so far?

Lynette:  Oh, so much. First of all, just the educational workshops alone have been invigorating and exciting. I’ve even taken my staff to a couple of the workshops, and that’s just been invaluable. You know you can give someone a fish to eat for a day, but you teach them how to fish and it’s for life. By giving us that knowledge, we can go on and do a lot of things beyond that. Then you start getting into the balls and hoops and recipes that they send out. I’m in the first year, but I’ve already gotten so much.

And I haven’t even gotten to the playground yet. My husband and I went to NC State where we sat down directly with the experts to design the playground. They’re at our disposal, and have come up with things I would only dream about. You think you could open up Home and Garden magazine and see these designs in there. Like we can do that here? That was just mind blowing. Then Shape NC put us on a bus to Asheboro where we saw a center that’s doing exactly what I am at my center.

Jennifer:  Why did your center want to become a Shape NC site?

Lynette:  Let’s just put it out there, it’s expensive, and I’m a small business owner. So, when Shape NC told me if I’m willing to make these positive changes in my center, they’ll contribute significantly to enhancing my playground space, it was just very attractive. We have a beautiful natural environment at our center with big trees and shade. When I saw some of the designs that NC State could do for us with Shape NC, it fit perfectly into our philosophy and topography. It was a win-win.

…It was about creating beautiful, relaxing spaces that not only enhance you physically, but mentally and spiritually. And we’re a Christian-based center, so when I saw some of the spaces where people can go and be quiet and calm down, but also other places to go and run around, it’s about all of that when you go outside.

Jennifer:  What is the importance of kids consistently getting that nutritional value from child care centers?

Lynette:  Most of my clientele is middle to upper-middle [income], and a lot of times you think food programs are only for the less fortunate. But I will tell you that these families, who are working moms and dads running here and there, have the resources but just not the time to provide the types of meals that they would like to. What we want to do here is give parents peace of mind that their child’s breakfast, lunch and snack are very nutritious. They may do fast food for dinner, but that’s okay because they had salmon, wild rice, broccoli and quinoa at school today. I think that’s significant because we’re providing them food for the greater portion of the day.

Jennifer:  What impact have you seen Shape NC have on your teachers, the children and on the children’s parents?

Lynette:  I just can’t say enough. I mean I feel so fortunate. Not many centers get picked each year. Just the commitment of this entire team, Swanda and her group cannot be more helpful. Another great thing is the networking. I love being in contact with other sites that have already done it. They have been so helpful and so inspiring. I mean, I forgot which center we went to, but the director kept asking, ‘Is there anything else we can tell you?’ My phone is full of photos, and then one site, I went beyond asking about the playground because I liked the classroom, too.

I love the way the Asheboro center wanted to help. She just kept it real director to director, because when you put all these beautiful things on the playground, you need to know how to maintain them. She told me, ‘I can tell when I get a new teacher who does not understand how we play. She’ll be the first one to toss something over a fence and say the children didn’t know how to play with it.’ She told me you have to continue the education of the staff, so the children know how to enjoy the space.

You can plant all these wonderful herbs, and children will romp through them and rip them apart, not understanding that this is part of the environment and you care for it. This is how we work and play in it for it to be a beautiful place for us. So, I was really glad for that good note of how to maintain from another director.

To continue supporting the operations of Child Care Services Association and crucial programs such as Shape NC, please consider donating today.


*Answers have been shortened for length and clarity.

By Jennifer Gioia, CCSA Communications Manager

Joe Coffey

Joe Coffey will earn his Master’s in Education (M.Ed.) from UNC-Wilmington next spring, and because of the Teacher Education and Compensation Helps (T.E.A.C.H.) Early Childhood® Scholarship program, he will do so debt-free. T.E.A.C.H. provides educational scholarships to early care professionals and those who perform specialized functions in the early care system.

Joe has had the desire to teach and engage families and children for 18 years serving as a preschool teacher, kindergarten teacher, public school administrator and training and technical assistance specialist. Now, while he pursues his M.Ed., he is the Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R) Program Director for Onslow County Partnership for Children in North Carolina.

“I am a true believer in lifelong learning. I also feel it is our responsibility to model life-long learning for those that we serve,” Joe said. “I originally became familiar with the T.E.A.C.H. program when I was completing my associate’s degree. Fellow students shared the information with me.”

What is T.E.A.C.H.?

In 1990, Child Care Services Association (CCSA) created the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship program to address the issues of under-education, poor compensation and high turnover in the early childhood workforce. In 2000, the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® National Center was established in response to the growth and expansion of the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship. The T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® National Center is now offered in 22 states plus D.C. and has awarded over 150,000 scholarships since its opening.

T.E.A.C.H. is an umbrella for a variety of scholarship programs for those working in early education in North Carolina. Because of the complexities of the different scholarships, each recipient is assigned a specific scholarship counselor.

T.E.A.C.H. Scholarship Counselors

Kimberly Bynum

Kimberly Bynum, who has been with CCSA for 22 years, is the program manager for T.E.A.C.H. North Carolina. One of her main duties is to provide counseling to graduate-level scholarship recipients like Joe. Those counselors are the reason Joe can say, “The process has been easy to use and to understand.”

“Joe is a great recipient to work with,” Kimberly said. “There’s not a lot of hand holding to do with him. He’s really proactive, but if there is ever anything missing, like when we do check-ins with our recipients several times throughout the semester, he’s very responsive to getting me what I need.”

Counselors play a vital role for T.E.A.C.H. scholarship recipients, helping them navigate through the many obstacles they may face while furthering their education.

“I do the same thing for Joe as I do for all my recipients. I make sure if they’re enrolled in school, we have the documents we need to go ahead and pay for their tuition upfront, because we don’t want anybody dropped…I usually go through and look at all my recipients, including Joe, to make sure we sent in the authorization to the colleges and universities,” said Kimberly.

And because of T.E.A.C.H., Joe will be able to graduate with his M.Ed. debt-free.

“T.E.A.C.H. has made it possible for me to continually build on my education from an Associate’s in Applied Science to a Master’s in Education without incurring a huge amount of student debt,” said Joe. “Early childhood education is a field in which the professionals are often underpaid and are themselves lacking resources. T.E.A.C.H. provides an avenue to advance education and careers while helping to avoid massive student debt.”

Kimberly finds her part in that process gratifying.

“What I really enjoy most about my position is…developing that one-on-one relationship [with the recipients],” she said. “It really just brings it all together when you’re at a conference or…attending graduations and you get to meet that person face-to-face…Especially at graduation, it makes you feel really proud, because you work with these people for so long, so they made it and they’re done.”

The Economic Impact of T.E.A.C.H.

Kimberly is also proud that T.E.A.C.H. has a wide reach that goes well beyond the scholarship recipient after graduation.

“We are empowering these scholarship recipients to [earn] more education, which in turn, they bring back into their facility, they’re better equipped to teach the children and then the children are ready for school when they start kindergarten.”

Once recipients complete their degree, they increase their marketability in the early childhood education system and may experience growth in their wages as well. In 2018, associate degree scholarship program recipients experienced an 11% increase in their earnings, with a low turnover rate of 8%.

“In addition, it’s increasing the star rating level as far as education goes for those facilities they’re employed in, making them more attractive to families, so increasing business that way,” Kimberly said. “Also, what [T.E.A.C.H.] does in the community…is increase the student enrollment in early childhood education departments [at participating universities and colleges]. So by T.E.A.C.H. sponsoring students at these universities and colleges, there is a positive economic impact on the North Carolina college system.”

To continue supporting the operations of Child Care Services Association and crucial programs such as T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood®️ Scholarship North Carolina, please consider donating today.

By Marsha Basloe, President of CCSA

As the President of Child Care Services Association, a mother and a grandmother, I have been following the advancement of HB 485, the Virtual Early Learning Pilot program, under consideration by the North Carolina State Legislature. The 3-year pilot would allow up to 10 school districts to offer online pre-k to at-risk, 4 year-old children, at a cost of $500,000 per year for the next three years.

I know that every year, state legislators are forced to make difficult decisions in allocating state funding. I can imagine that there is great pressure with these decisions and that legislators look for ways to save money, while still achieving intended outcomes. With regard to state pre-k funding and the goal to have all children throughout North Carolina enter school with the skills to succeed, it is important for legislators to understand how young children learn and what school readiness really means.

Decades of research show that the greatest gains made by children in pre-k occur where teacher interactions with children promote critical thinking skills as well as concept knowledge through warm and responsive relationships.[1]  This isn’t by chance. It’s by design. It’s in-person. It’s individualized to meet each child where he or she is at to build on strengths and build up areas that are not as strong.

Numerous evaluations have shown the importance of instructional, social, and emotional serve-and-return interactions that occur daily between teachers and children, as well as among classmates”[2] that result in developmental gains across early childhood domains (e.g., social and emotional, language and literacy, critical thinking and physical development). These interactions “motivate and deepen learning, enable children to organize and focus their attention and other capacities needed to learn, and promote peer cooperation and support,”[3] which comprise the foundation for school readiness. It’s about soft-skill development as well as concept development related to letters and numbers.

In my career, I’ve had the opportunity to visit pre-k classrooms and talk to pre-k teachers. Too many of our at-risk 4 year-olds haven’t been read to; they don’t know that books contain words and pictures that tell a story, that letters have sounds and that stories have a sequence – a beginning, a middle and an end. Some have never held a pencil or colored with crayons or written their name. Some haven’t held a pair of scissors or developed the dexterity to use a pencil or have ever put together a puzzle. You would think by age 4, children would know colors and basic shapes, but some do not.

The same children might know how to watch a video on a parent’s phone, but they can’t wait their turn or share, they can’t transition between activities and they don’t know how to use their words to express their thoughts or feelings in a group setting – to lead, follow or just get along with peers. They may or may not have consistent rules at home so they don’t know how to manage themselves appropriately and follow rules in a classroom. These are soft-skills that are learned in a hands-on experience that can’t be learned through a computer lesson.

Pre-k programs also screen children for vision, hearing, speech and physical development and help identify children who could benefit from early intervention services in areas where there may be a delay. None of this can occur through an online preschool experience – at least not in an effective manner.

The NC Pre-K program works. Studies have found that NC Pre-K raises children’s literacy, math and social-emotional skills not just for kindergarten entry[4] but also throughout elementary school and the most recent research shows gains through middle school.[5]

When kindergarten teachers are asked what school readiness means and what skills are most important for school readiness, their top responses include: children who can regulate their impulses, pay attention, listen to and follow directions, be willing to try different tasks (e.g., have self-confidence), engage in self-care, get along with peers and have motor skills such as the ability to hold a pencil.[6]

Despite the strong evaluations of NC Pre-K, current funding supports fewer than half of eligible children. To me, the answer should be to adequately fund NC Pre-K so that 4 year-old children can attend, not divert resources to an online preschool that misses the mark on what matters most for early childhood development – effective interactions with children. Not screen time.

There is still time to course correct on state budget issues. We don’t need a 3-year pilot that diverts $1.5 million from additional pre-k seats for children. Let’s put every dollar possible into expanding what works. And, for 4-year old children, that’s a setting that promotes interactions with teachers and peers.


[1] Investing in Our Future: The Evidence Base on Preschool Education, Society for Research in Child Development and Foundation for Child Development, 2013. https://www.fcd-us.org/assets/2013/10/Evidence20Base20on20Preschool20Education20FINAL.pdf

[2] The Current State of Scientific Knowledge on Pre-Kindergarten Effects, Deborah A. Phillips of Georgetown University, Mark W. Lipsey of  Vanderbilt University, Kenneth A. Dodge of Duke University, Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution, Daphna Bassok  of the University of Virginia, Margaret R. Burchinal of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Greg J. Duncan of the University of California-Irvine, Mark Dynarski of the Brookings Institution, Katherine A. Magnuson  of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Christina Weiland of the University of Michigan. (2017).  https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/duke_prekstudy_final_4-4-17_hires.pdf

[3] Ibid.

[4] North Carolina Pre-Kindergarten Program Evaluation Key Findings (2002–2016), Frank Porter Graham Institute, University of North Carolina, 2017. https://fpg.unc.edu/sites/fpg.unc.edu/files/resources/reports-and-policy-briefs/Summary%20of%20NC%20Pre-K%20Evaluation%20Findings%205-2017.pdf

[5] Evaluation of North Carolina’s Smart Start and NC Pre-K Programs: Follow-Up Through Eighth Grade, Duke University, December 2018. https://duke.app.box.com/s/pw3zv27a2jkmfas2j183yg4ekamxzl8y

[6] What Kindergarten Readiness Means to Kindergarten Teachers, New America. 2009. https://www.newamerica.org/education-policy/early-elementary-education-policy/early-ed-watch/what-kindergarten-readiness-means-to-kindergarten-teachers/

By Jennifer Gioia, CCSA Communications Manager

Millions of Americans live with mental illness. With May just passing as National Mental Health Awareness Month, it is important to recognize that prevention and early intervention are the solutions to a healthier, happier life. 1 The National Alliance on Mental Illness records 1 in 5 (46.6 million) U.S. adults experience mental illness at least once in their lifetime, and “half of all lifetime mental health conditions begin by age 14 and 75% by age 25, but early intervention programs can help.” 2

One dependable way to intervene and prevent mental illness is recognizing it as early as possible, since even infants and young children can have mental and developmental disorders. 3 Healthy social and emotional development is the foundation for brain development in young children, and high-quality early care and education is a large piece of that development.

Child Care Services Association (CCSA) works to build solid foundations for the development of our youngest children by ensuring all children have access to high-quality early care and education and that their teachers are educated and qualified. To ensure accessibility and affordability for all children, CCSA offers free child care referral services and scholarships for parents. CCSA also maintains teachers are educated and stable through the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood Scholarship program, and the Child Care WAGE$ and Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$ compensation programs.

With this high-quality child care and education, infants and toddlers, “who engage with responsive, consistent and nurturing caregivers, are more likely to have strong emotional health throughout life.” 3 Supports such as T.E.A.C.H., WAGE$ and AWARD$ help child care teachers further their education and receive additional compensation, allowing them to continue teaching and caring for our youngest children.

While having happy, educated and stable teachers improves the quality of care and education a child receives, child care can still be unaffordable for parents, especially if they have more than one child in need of care. CCSA’s free child care referral services simplify the child care search, helping parents focus on what’s truly important for their specific child’s needs without worrying about another expense. “Ensuring all families have access to affordable, high-quality child care can help mitigate some of the impacts of poverty and prepare children for success in school and beyond.” 4

However, even with affordable and positive early childhood experiences and stable educators, mental health and developmental delays can be seen as early as infancy. 3 “Children can show clear characteristics of anxiety disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and neurodevelopmental disabilities, such as autism, at a very early age. That said, young children respond to and process emotional experiences and traumatic events in ways that are very different from adults and older children. Consequently, diagnosis in early childhood can be much more difficult than it is in adults.” 5

It is important to identify and treat mental health disorders as early as possible to reduce impairment, suffering and effects on overall health and development. 3 However, it can be difficult to identify mental health illness in young children, and parents may turn to their child’s doctors or teachers for guidance. “If properly identified using diagnostic criteria relevant to infant and early childhood development and experiences, many of these challenges can be effectively treated.” 3

“It is clear that state agencies [also] must attend to the mental health needs of infants and young children if they want to improve health and developmental outcomes, prevent impairment due to early adversity, provide trauma-informed care, and ultimately, see better returns on investment. Adopting an age-appropriate diagnosis and treatment is a significant step toward assuring better overall health for infants, young children, and their families” 3 and the teachers who educate and nurture our youngest.

Sources:
(1) https://www.nami.org/Get-Involved/Awareness-Events/Awareness-Messaging
(2) http://www.ncimha.org/
(3) A. Szekley, C. Oser, J. Cohen, T. Ahlers. ZERO TO THREE. Advancing Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health: The Integration of DC:0-5TM Into State Policy and Systems. July 31, 2018.
(4) https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/early-childhood/reports/2018/11/15/460970/understanding-true-cost-child-care-infants-toddlers/
(5) https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/deep-dives/mental-health/