Research has proven that the conditions of children’s lives from birth to age three are critical to their future health, development, and ability to realize their full potential in the world.
This knowledge drives global efforts to fill in gaps where barriers, often caused by socioeconomic and educational disparities, exist. The work is vital and life-enhancing, yet can be difficult to provide, since families who need help may not seek it.
When Park City schools identified a severe achievement gap in students stemming from some incoming kindergartners starting school developmentally behind their peers, Park City Community Foundation convened an early childhood needs task force in 2018 to seek solutions.
That task force became the Summit County Early Childhood Alliance. A coalition of community members, local nonprofits, childcare providers, mental and physical health providers, educators, parents, and donors, and it delivers services that are increasingly essential as families grapple with the Coronavirus-caused economic downturn.
“Many agencies and individuals in Park City attempted to improve access to affordable, quality childcare in past years, but much of that work was done in silos,” said Park City councilwoman Nann Worel. “The Early Childhood Alliance has brought all of those voices together and engaged the community in a way that is unprecedented. It’s working to ensure that all children, regardless of their ethnicity or socioeconomic status, enter kindergarten with the skills they need to succeed.”
The pandemic’s effects have spurred growth in several programs within the alliance.
PC Tots, which provides childcare and early education, is expanding the number of children it serves. Executive Director Rachel Barnett said she is proud of her team’s ability to meet the community’s needs.
“Income, minority status, and English fluency are factors in the disparities we see in kindergarten readiness,” she said. “To address socioeconomic issues, you must start as early as possible. For example, It’s important for kids to discover and practice their social and emotional skills, but many times, parents don’t have the skills or knowledge to support their kids with this. We’re seeing incredible results.”
Another alliance member, Holy Cross Ministries, is building on its Parents as Teachers program, which provides home visits with bilingual, bicultural staff for low-income families with young children.
“It’s key to ensure that parents receive the support they need at home if their kid’s learning journey is not up to age standards,” said Lizeette Zurita, Parents as Teachers Program Coordinator. “We teach parents that they are the best advocates for their children. We provide opportunities for parents to come into classrooms and encourage them to ask many questions.”
The alliance is also coordinating efforts to apply for the federal Early Head Start program, which focuses on improving social determinants of health for low-income families with children under three years old.
The benefits of caring for society’s youngest members and fostering their healthy growth is incalculable, both to individuals and to society as a whole.
“From an economic standpoint, our resort-based economy depends on a workforce that is healthy and able to be on the job when needed,” Worel said. “Without safe, affordable childcare, many parents in our community are unable to work. The Early Childhood Alliance is working hard to ensure that affordable childcare is available so parents can go to work knowing their children are well cared for.”
Join Park City Community Foundation to support the Early Childhood Alliance on Sep. 22, 2020 from 1:00 – 2:00pm. During the virtual event, you’ll hear families’ stories and a presentation from Early Childhood Alliance members along with Moe Hickey, CEO of Voices for Utah Children. RSVP today >