The phrase “It takes a village to raise a child” is generally met with nodding heads and universal agreement. But in more recent years, this concept has reached beyond reminding the boy in the grocery store to say “excuse me” or keeping a watchful eye on the punch bowl at the high school dance. With more and more families with two working parents who need quality care for their children, existing and new daycare facilities and preschools are taking on more responsibility to help raise young children during their formative years.
Public Service Programs for Childcare at Younger Ages
The most recent data (2014) shows that in 60 percent of families of married parents with children, both parents work. There are also 2.1 million single working mothers with children under the age of six across the country. In both situations, affordable and high-quality childcare is critical.
There are two different ways early-childhood care and education are federally funded: providing programs and providing funding to families. The national Head Start program is among the leaders in providing quality care and early education across the United States. The Office of Head Start administers funds and oversees local agencies that provide the Head Start Services, including educational, health and family well-being. Head Start programs are in every state through 1,700 local communities, serving over a million children each year.
Another form of support is financial assistance for childcare, preschool and health services, offered as a public service by agencies such as the Child Care Services Association. This federal organization works at the state, territory and tribal level to help low-income families gain access to the services necessary to keep their children safe, healthy and well-educated.
Childcare and Educational Services
It is clear that one of the challenges facing families with children today is the cost of care and education. Many working parents are living at the poverty level and require more than a good place for their children to learn. They need help accessing transportation and tuition required for their children to attend these educational childcare facilities.
The Effects of Poverty
According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, 49 percent of children under 3 years of age, or 5.6 million children, live in low-income families. Forty-eight percent of children 3 through 5 years old — 5.9 million children — live in low-income families.
This means that almost half — more than 10 million — children in the United States would benefit from high-quality infant and early childhood care and education provided as a public service, either free of charge or at a reduced cost to the family.
Prenatal Care and Nutrition
In addition to needing help with childcare and early education, many women living in low-income housing, even if working, do not have the medical insurance necessary to receive consistent pre-natal care or the money necessary to eat a nutritious diet during pregnancy. They may not have a network of support or extended family living nearby who can assist with the challenges of pregnancy or raising an infant or young child.
At the national level, agencies such as the Federal Home Visiting Program (sponsored by the Health Resources & Services Administration and the Administration for Children and Families) provide services for improved maternal and child health and the promotion of child development and school readiness. In addition, the Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture offers benefits through the Women, Infants and Children program on the local or regional level. In the state of Arkansas, the WIC program provides the following support:
- Supplemental foods high in nutrients during time of critical growth and development.
- Nutrition education designed to improve dietary habits and health status and to emphasize the relationship between nutrition and health.
- Information, support and encouragement for breastfeeding.
- Referrals for other health services.
The rising demand for affordable childcare and medical services and the crippling effect of institutional poverty give some families reason to lose hope for the future of their children. Publicly supported and organized programs are now, more than ever, integral parts of communities that dream of raising successful students and citizens.
How You Can Help
Programs providing resources like these are possible only when people with a passion for supporting healthy children in strong families of all economic levels and cultural backgrounds have been well-prepared. In the Master of Science in Early Childhood Services program at Arkansas State University, graduate students gain “an understanding of administrative responsibilities needed to manage a childcare or preschool program such as program design, staff training, policy formation, fiscal management and decision making.”
Learn more about the A-State online Master of Science in Early Childhood Services program.