The science of early childhood development has taught us that children are more likely to succeed when they can adapt to changes and remain flexible in the face of different tasks, environments or circumstances.
This is also true in providing Nebraska’s children at risk with high-quality early interactions that can help close the achievement gap. No single program, provider or community partnership can meet the needs of the 64,000+ children at risk in our state. Home child care providers, child care centers, Head Start programs, school-based preschools, faith-based programs and others all have a place in ensuring that children have access to quality opportunities for growth in their earliest years.
Public-private partnerships are doing some of the most effective work to support children’s early development in Nebraska, bringing together funds, expertise and other resources to help early childhood professionals work more productively with the families and children they serve.
Nebraska’s Sixpence grant program, for example, provides funding and expert assistance ranging from parent coaching and family engagement programs to center- and home-based child care providers. These services, and the professionals who deliver them, are uniquely positioned to serve the children in their communities in a way that no rigid, one-size-fits-all model could match. Because Sixpence draws together funds from multiple public and private sources, service providers also have greater flexibility to blend and braid their operating dollars, creating more stable financial structure for their programs.
Quality of Care is Key
Step Up to Quality, Nebraska’s child care rating and improvement system, is another approach that capitalizes on flexibility in the way we support the professionals who care for our youngest children. Step Up to Quality is about ensuring that providers have access to the resources they need to deliver the best possible quality experiences for young children, whether they operate a center serving dozens of families or are a home-based provider serving only a few. The quality of care, not the setting, is the key to helping children reach their potential. We know this because the first and, so far, only provider to achieve the highest rating on the Step Up to Quality scale is a home provider caring for a small number of children.
Efforts like Sixpence and Step Up to Quality are gaining momentum, creating more opportunities for a range of services, especially child care providers, to access new sources of financial and technical support. That’s good news for Nebraska’s youngest children, their parents and the skilled professionals who will help steer the next generation of Nebraskans toward success.
Conventional wisdom says we learn best from our mistakes, but our successes can also teach us a great deal. Nebraska’s success in cultivating our youngest children shows us that this important work doesn’t fit within a single model or structure. Based on their unique needs, communities and early childhood educators are approaching this work with the flexibility and resourcefulness we hope to see emerge in our youngest children.