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Advocate for quality early care, education

Parents have long known that babies are born learning, and research confirms that the first five years of life are a time of enormous social, emotional, physical and intellectual growth. Young children need a safe, nurturing and stimulating place where they can explore the world around them. But in today's world, parents juggle multiple responsibilities of family, work and everyday life.

Given the importance of getting children off to a good start, how can state and local communities better support parents as first teachers?

The Early Care and Education Coalition has taken up this challenge. We aim to make sure all young children in Washington state have what they need to make a good start in life. We are a cross-sector advocacy group focused on early childhood, with partners such as the Foundation for Early Learning, the Boeing Company, the Paul G. Allen Foundation, the Kirlin Foundation and the Children's Alliance.

Policy makers are beginning to understand why high-quality early care and education are important, but they need to hear from more of us that this is a priority for action. The Coalition focuses information and advocacy efforts toward creation of new choices for young children and their families. We aim to engage 20,000 people who will share information with others, and make their voices heard in their community.

The Coalition has identified these key needs on which to focus our efforts:
  • Parent information and support. Children who feel safe, loved and appreciated grow into caring children who are excited to learn. Since parents are often balancing work and home responsibilities, and the experience of parenting might be new and challenging, support from others often makes a difference.
  • Improved quality of care. The quality of children's relationships at home and in care settings forms the path for life-long learning and success. Quality of care affects all aspects of a child's growth -- socio-emotional, physical, cognitive and language. For this to happen, children need consistent, knowledgeable and skilled caregivers. Providing adequate compensation for caregivers keeps turnover low, and having low child-staff ratios and interactive activities appropriate to each child's stage of development costs money. As a result, high-quality care is out of the reach of many parents, leaving most children in mediocre- to poor-quality care. Since nearly 70 percent of parents use some form of out-of-home care, the need is critical.
  • More preschool choices. Preschool is often the place where children begin to take their curious minds into a more social and educational setting. Research shows the long-term benefits of preschool for educational attainment and success in life. However, our state cannot even provide preschool opportunities for half the eligible low-income children, let alone all the children whose parents choose it.

Here's what you can do to help:

Join us! Funded by foundations and community-minded businesses, the Coalition is working to build a strong voice for parents and young children. The improvements we seek will require more public attention and new investments. We need your help to galvanize statewide support to make a measurable difference in the lives of young children.

Sign up: Visit our Web site at www.earlyeducationcoalition.org and sign up to receive email messages containing news, information that you can share with others, and specific actions you can take.

Tom Campbell is a father of three children and Project Director for the Early Care and Education Coalition.

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