I was recently part of a discussion where someone asked what I felt was the “one thing” that could be done to address some of society’s challenges. In my opinion, and that of many of my nonprofit colleagues, there is no simple answer because our most pressing issues are more interconnected than we realize.
For example, if parents struggle to find a job, a family may have trouble keeping stable housing. Without stable housing, a child might not feel safe and secure and make friends. The family may skimp on other expenses, such as electricity, leading the child to be unable to do homework at night without lights. The lack of basic needs may lead to increased tension and possible violence in the home. The toxic stress and lack of adequate resources can lead to underperformance in work and school.
The Colorado Department of Higher Education recently showed that it understands this interconnectedness of struggles when setting their goals for increasing attainment of post-secondary certificates and degrees. Most of its strategies are clearly focused on traditional tools in academia for boosting attainment, but one strategy reads “Fostering food security for college students.” The link between satisfying basic needs and increasing graduation rates are becoming clear, and colleges have been responding by installing food banks on campus to help students make ends meet.
Maybe the question should be “If you had to choose only one thing to work on to make a difference, what would it be?” I would choose high quality early childhood care because it has so many positive lasting benefits for children and their families. For example, children in quality early care not only learn ABC’s and 123’s but also learn how to control emotions and cooperate with others. The children eat healthy foods and receive developmental screenings. While a child is in high-quality care, parents can work or attend school. When they connect with other parents and teachers at the center, they find social support and learn about helpful resources. In a nutshell, the early childhood centers help kids and strengthen families in a way that prevents many other problems later in life.
Furthermore, the ripple effect of providing low or no cost high-quality early care and education to children has been shown to save school districts money in terms of reduced special education costs and to increase economic development in a community.
The Early Childhood Council of La Plata County is our local expert for all things early childhood. The ECC is a United Way-funded partner agency that works closely child care providers. They help with training teachers, navigating state regulations, increasing the number of slots for kids in centers and advocating for issues related to early childhood to name just a few! Their work is mostly behind the scenes but is so important to maintain quality and access.
I offer a heartfelt thank you to all who work with young children and families to help them build bright futures. You are an important part of the interconnected network of supports that our community replies upon to care for each other and succeed. Thank you for Living United.
Lynn Urban is president and CEO of United Way of Southwest Colorado.