A message from Katie Dukes, EdNC's early childhood policy analyst
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.
A lot has happened since the last edition of Early Bird (thanks for your patience as I took some much needed time off). There are (finally) vaccines on the way for children from 6 months to 5 years old. The state legislature is in full swing and might wrap up the short session soon (updates below). But as we head into the summer months after a challenging few weeks, I encourage you to spend some time with my colleague Katie Dukes’s toolkit on supporting children through grieving. I didn’t know how much I’d need it, and I hope it helps your families, classrooms, and communities as we get through tough things together. A note from Katie on this guide:
The first thing I did when I accepted my job as a policy analyst for EdNC was pitch a project. It was October 2021 and I had just read a research paper about the estimated number of children who had experienced a COVID-19-associated death of a caregiver. It was a lot. As a former teacher, I knew schools could — and would — play a significant role in supporting these students.
I spent six months researching how many children in North Carolina may be affected by this specific form of grief, how schools and communities are already supporting grieving students, and strategies that can be effectively implemented affordably on the hyperlocal level. The result is EdNC’s toolkit of best practices for supporting students who have experienced the death of a caregiver. I hope you’ll read and share with folks in your community.
Below, don’t miss research on how early childhood programs have used stabilization grant funding that will run out next year. As always, don’t hesitate to reach out with questions, story ideas, or simply to connect. Take care of yourselves and one another.
Early years at the GA: Updates from the legislature
Early childhood advocates this session were pushing for funding for education-based wage supplements for teachers through the Child Care WAGE$ program and more funding for the subsidy program, which covers part of the cost of child care for working parents who qualify.
Go here for EdNC’s session preview, and click on, “What about our youngest learners?” on the table of contents on the left-hand side for what advocates and Gov. Roy Cooper are proposing for early childhood policy.
Advocates, parents, and policymakers gathered earlier this month for Strolling Thunder, the annual advocacy day for Think Babies NC, a coalition of organizations pushing for policies that support health and learning in the first three years of life. You can find their policy priorities here — from establishing paid family and medical leave to closing the health care coverage gap.
Multiple legislators and advocates have told me it is unlikely that the General Assembly will make any large investments in early care and education this session. It’s more likely some of the early learning policies recommended by the bipartisan, cross-sector Hunt-Lee Commission will surface in next year’s long session.
Programs are relying on stabilization grants to keep their doors open but are still struggling to find qualified teachers and do not have the capacity to meet families’ needs. That grant funding will run out next year before a budget from the long session is approved.
Early Bird reads: What we’re writing
“When we began this project, about 4,000 children in North Carolina were grieving the death of a caregiver due to COVID-19,” Katie Dukes reports. “Now that number is probably more than 6,000, based on estimates from leading experts.”
Dukes compiled resources and best practices to create “a toolkit for caregivers, schools, and community groups looking for ways to support grieving children. All of these strategies are low-cost and can be implemented quickly.”
Alice Cashwell, a beloved music teacher at Beaufort Elementary School, died on April 17, 2022, during spring break.
The school’s leaders spent the weeks leading up to Cashwell’s death to pre-teach elementary students about the process of grieving. When they returned from spring break, teachers had “toolboxes filled with coping strategies,” Dukes writes.
“[Grieving] is a skill that every child will need at some point in time,” said Heather Boston, director of student support services for Carteret County Public Schools.
The state Department of Health and Human Services had preordered 101,200 doses Thursday to send to providers in all 100 counties, so children could start receiving shots as soon as the final go-ahead is given.
Trials found that both vaccines are safe and effective against serious illness that can lead to hospitalization and death. The FDA has said serious illness is a low risk for this age group, but the vaccines would further lower that risk.
Go here to find the closest provider.
Find safe alternatives and resources for finding baby formula amid an ongoing shortage due to supply chain issues and a recall from Abbott Nutrition.
As of June 2, Bloomberg reported that North Carolina still had an 84% out-of-stock rate.
Your take, for goodness sake: EdNC perspectives
Lisa Finaldi, community engagement leader at the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation, shares the foundation’s updated Summer Learning Toolkit, meant for program leaders, educators, and caregivers to ensure children stay engaged and learning throughout the summer.
Finaldi said ensuring children don’t fall behind is especially important heading into this summer after so much pandemic disruption.
“We know what children need to thrive: a healthy beginning at birth, supported and supportive families and communities, and high-quality learning environments,” Finaldi writes. “Children who read books over the summer can maintain or improve their literacy skills. When elementary school students attend summer learning programs, they can benefit in both reading and math.”
Lindsay Saunders, marketing and communications director — also at the NC Early Childhood Foundation — became a first-time mom during the pandemic.
“It’s a lot to juggle. And it’s exhausting, but we’re adapting,” Saunders writes.
“At the same time, it can be incredibly different based on someone’s race or economic status, and I recognize the privilege I carry as a white woman with a partner, and a two-income household. Those three things stare back at me every time I complain to myself in my head; nevertheless, the first days of having our baby cared for elsewhere felt like someone had ripped my heart out. This little one is growing so fast and I don’t want to miss a moment, but I also want to work. And I’ve learned a lot in the past four months.”
In other early learning news: What I’m reading
Easing the stress of poverty can bring down rates of child abuse and neglect - From The Hechinger Report
UNC researchers embark on statewide effort to reduce racial disparities, improve maternal health outcomes for Black moms - From North Carolina Health News
Research & Resources: Let's talk stabilization grants
“After all of this, child care is still going to need help. If we return back to the way it was, you are going to have a mass exodus of teachers. They are not going to come back for $10 an hour.” This is a quote from an anonymous early childhood program director from a report by the Child Care Services Association released in April.
CCSA asked providers how they are using federal temporary relief dollars. The report focuses on five case studies of providers (both child care centers and home-based facilities) in the Triangle. Here’s what they found:
- At the beginning of December, the Division of Child Development and Early Education had approved 3,861 applicants for grants.
- 72% of them were from child care centers and 28% were from family child care homes. Public pre-K classrooms were not eligible for the grants.
- 92% of applicants used the funding to address teacher compensation.
- 79% increased base pay and/or benefits, while 13% gave bonuses to teachers.
- Despite these bumps in compensation, qualified teachers are still hard to come by.
- Programs have also used the funds to improve facilities and reduce costs for parents.
- Programs are concerned about how to move forward once the funds run out, and don’t know how they will sustain compensation bumps without passing the cost to parents.