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Early childhood programs’ success, community vitality focus of conference

Nearly 700 civic, business and education leaders, from 99 Nebraska communities and 20 states and Washington, D.C., came together for the third annual “Thriving Children, Families, and Communities” conference Monday to focus on quality early childhood programs—which became even more critical with the pandemic—and their connection to community economic development and vitality.

Nebraska ranks as one of the top states in the nation where all available parents work yet research shows Nebraska, like many other states, faces great challenges, including a shortage of high-quality early childhood programs and services.

Charting a path forward
Keynote speaker Linda Smith, Early Childhood Initiative director at the Bipartisan Policy Center, addressed critical issues and obstacles from a state and national perspective and highlighted the special role for communities, businesses and policymakers in charting a better path forward.

“For years, early childhood advocates have had a conversation with themselves. We need to have a conversation, as you are doing in Nebraska, with businesses, with government, with health care, with education, with these other sectors that have a very important role and concern about what happens with early childhood,” said Smith.

In the breakout sessions, FFN staff Mike Feeken moderated a panel detailing FFN's new report, The Bottom Line, which shows our state loses millions of dollars annually when parents have inadequate access to child care. Elizabeth Everett presented resources for communities and child care providers related to COVID-19 and Jason Prokop and Mike Medwick presented My Nebraska Story, FFN’s campaign on the key role child care plays in creating prosperous communities.

Senator opens survey for parents, businesses
During the conference, Senator John Stinner announced a statewide survey for Nebraska parents and business owners to share their experiences with child care during the pandemic. The survey is being conducted in conjunction with LR390, a legislative interim study examining the fiscal and economic impacts of COVID-19 on the early childhood workforce and the financing requirements of a high-quality early childhood system. 

FFN’s co-sponsors for the event were the Nebraska Department of Education, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, Nebraska Children and Families Foundation, Nebraska Community Foundation, Nebraska Early Childhood Collaborative, Nebraska Extension, Buffett Early Childhood Fund and the Buffett Early Childhood Institute.

We’ll share the keynote address and breakout materials when they’re available.

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