Early Childhood Experts Highlight Needs in Summit County

Children from birth to age three are in the most critical period of brain development, and unfortunately, caregivers in roles of supporting this age group often find themselves under-supported when it comes to finding affordable, accessible options across the nation.  

On Thursday, August 26, Park City Community Foundation, joined by Kristen Schulz, Director of the Early Childhood Alliance, presented data that examined the early childhood education and care landscape in Summit County in conjunction with Sorenson Impact Center. The data pulled for this study indicated key gaps in childcare systems in our community, gaps further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Schulz noted stand-out findings from this assessment and indicated Summit County needs to create a better outreach program so that families know what their options are when it comes to receiving care and support, as well as offer more options to support mothers physically and mentally as they embark on their pregnancy and postpartum journeys. 

“In general, we have a lot of resources in town, but we don’t have a great way of making sure that families that are in the most need of those resources are able to access them,” Schulz told KCPW in her event recap Friday morning. “One of the (Sorenson Impact Center’s) main recommendations is we have more family navigators and maybe even a hub, an ECA hub, that has kind of the ‘no wrong door philosophy.’ So, if a family comes in and they have a need, we have a way to easily connect that family with the resources that we have in town to meet that need.” 

In addition to the sharing of the study’s findings, Eliot Haspel, a nationally recognized expert in the early childhood field and thought leader in childcare policy, joined us to share his outlook on where the current gaps in the American childcare system exist, and where we should look for improvement. 

 In an ideal system, Haspel would like families to have an unconditional right to quality early care and education, starting at birth, that comes at a little-to-no cost to them and their families, with well-supported caregivers and education practitioners at the helm of the movement.  

“[Folks in the United States] still have a tendency to think babies, infants, toddlers, are basically sacks of potatoes that don’t learn anything because they can’t talk and they can’t move very much,” Haspel explained in a conversation with KPCW on Friday morning. “Getting the message across that there are upwards of a million neural connections happening every minute among some of our youngest children is an important place to start.” 

Haspel emphasized the importance of focusing community-wide efforts on three main areas:  

  1. A shift in perspective. Changing the general mindset of the importance of the early years of child development is critical. 
  2. Offer affordable care accessible. 79% of women in the Utah workforce have children under the age of six. Affordable, accessible, care has an immediate return on investment by increasing parental employment and maternal employment in the short term and supporting the success of children in school systems and the workforce in the long term. 
  3. Proper compensation for caregivers. In Utah, the median wage for a childcare worker is $10.47. In comparison to other industries, such as retail that offers higher minimum wages and incentives, childcare struggles to compete. According to blank, 80% of childcare facilities around the United States are suffering from staffing shortages. 

Together, these shifts toward adequate public investment, centering family choices, and ensuring quality, can help solve the problems in America’s childcare system, according to Haspel.  

To help combat the challenges in our childcare system, local advocacy remains key. We can start here in our community. At Park City Community Foundation, we aim to ensure families have access to resources so that all children can reach their full potential. Our Early Childhood Alliance supports local nonprofit partners working to expand access to early childcare programs, supports childcare providers, and highlights ongoing needs to invest in our youngest community members. 

Did you know? Quick facts about Early Childhood Education in Summit County. 

Read the full Summit County Early Childhood Needs Assessment from Sorenson Impact Center.

Learn more about the Early Childhood Alliance and the work that we are doing in Park City and Summit >>

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