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Early Bird

Dreaming of a universal early childhood system

Starting the public good at 5 years old

Early Bird readers, hello again. Newcomers, welcome! If you were forwarded this email, you can sign up here to receive it every two weeks, and join our conversation on issues facing North Carolina’s young children and those who support them. If you’re already a subscriber, please help us reach more people by sharing this with your friends and co-workers interested in early childhood education.

Leaders of Get Ready Guilford explain their journey to early childhood funders, advocates, and leaders. Liz Bell/EducationNC

My EdNC early childhood teammate Katie Dukes and I spent the week listening to early childhood experts and community leaders from North Carolina and across the country talk about this moment, described repeatedly as a crossroads, when it comes to the needs of young children and families and how our systems, policies, and government structures could better address those needs.

I often hear folks talk about the array of services and programs that support the youngest children as a “nonsystem.” The theme of these discussions, hosted by Duke’s Center for Family and Child Policy and the Hunt Institute, was how to create a system — one that is accessible universally in the way K-12 education is.

Guilford County leaders provided us with a local example of what that could look like. Nonprofit organization Ready for School, Ready for Life has been working since 2014 with a bold vision of equitable access to universal, high-quality supports and services for young children and families. Their initiative, Get Ready Guilford, is building an early childhood infrastructure to help families navigate a complex network of resources and services.

“This vision is as breathtaking and groundbreaking as public school universally was 200 years ago for children age 7 to 16, but for children 0 to 8,” said Kenneth Dodge, past director of the Center for Family and Child Policy and founder of Family Connects International.

Early childhood investment is both a moral and economic imperative for North Carolina, said Rep. Ashton Clemmons, D-Guilford.

“If you knew what you know now… would we start the public education system at 5?” Clemmons asked the crowd Wednesday. “If we knew all the things we now know, would we start a public good of building who we’re going to be as a state at 5? Or would we be doing something different?”

You can check out Katie’s Twitter thread or mine for takeaways on Tuesday’s national early childhood discussion and my article for Wednesday’s conversation on North Carolina.

Below, don’t miss how the 2020 census fell short in its count of young children and how businesses policies can support families.

Early Bird reads: What we’re writing

A vision ‘as breathtaking and groundbreaking as public school’ for early childhood

Rep. Ashton Clemmons, D-Guilford, said there is a real need to broaden the voices advocating for early childhood change, including business leaders and policymakers on both sides of the aisle.

“I think it is very important that we start talking about early childhood as fundamental to our economic sustainability and growth,” Clemmons said. “We know the moral imperative of providing for our children, we know the stories, but all of us talking to each other about those things is not getting us where we need to be.”

Your take, for goodness sake: EdNC perspectives

Perspective | Just how much were young children undercounted in the 2020 census?

“The under- and overcounting of specific populations is not new,” writes Laurie Schaecher, a fellow at NC Child focused on advancing racial equity with data.

“The census historically undercounts our most under-resourced populations, including Black, American Indian or Alaska Native, and Hispanic or Latino populations. These same groups are under-represented in 2020.

The most significant undercount, however, is for children under 5. Analysis by the Census Bureau revealed the net undercount error for children under 5 in 2020 was -7.0%, the largest of any age group. Further, the undercount of young children has also been getting worse with every census since 1980.”

In other early learning news: What I’m reading

Research & Resources: Let's talk workplace policies that support families

An updated guide from the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation includes tools and tips for employers of all sizes when it comes to adopting policies that make sense for families — particularly those with young children.

Originally launched in 2019, the foundation has worked with more than 6,500 employers in North Carolina to better policies such as family-sustaining wages, child care support, flexible scheduling, accommodations for pregnant workers, and paid parental leave.

“Family friendly workplaces were important to our economy and to families before the pandemic, but the pandemic has further increased the need and urgency for workplace practices that keep parents in the workforce, especially women, and ensure our state’s businesses and economy are resilient and strong,” said Muffy Grant, the foundation’s executive director. “Child care supports, family sustaining wages and mental health support, along with accommodations for pregnant workers, paid leave and flexibility, are essential to business outcomes and to child and family health and well-being.”

In July of 2021, the North Carolina Department of Commerce, said the pandemic has created “the most difficult hiring environment for employers in a generation or more.”

“Family-friendly workplace practices have been shown to attract and retain talent and improve employee morale and productivity,” said a statement from the foundation. 

“As someone who focuses on industry growth and expansion in NC, I know that support for working families is crucial to the success of our businesses and our economy,” said James Wolfe, the existing industry expansions manager, Southeast Region, for the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC). “In fact, child care access and family-friendly workplace efforts like Family Forward NC are so critical to economic growth that they are included in the state’s latest strategic economic development plan.”

Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.