A virtual event kicked off the campaign and featured an array of state and community leaders who spoke about the value of early childhood education, including University of Nebraska President Ted Carter and Senator John Stinner.
We Care for Kids is a collaborative, community-based initiative to help meet the need for quality early childhood programs and services across the state. According to the Nebraska Community Foundation which works in more than 250 communities across the state, child care consistently ranks as one of the most urgent issues facing communities. More than three-fourths of Nebraska children under the age of six live in homes where all adults work, making it essential that families have access to safe, loving, and stimulating early childhood education with the help of quality early childhood educators.
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“Children who receive quality early childhood education are better prepared to learn, more likely to read by the fourth grade, graduate school, and go on to college,” Sam Meisels, founding executive director at the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska, which is coordinating the campaign, said in a press release. “The more we care about bringing quality early childhood education to all families, the more we ensure that Nebraska thrives.”
Access to quality early childhood education for all Nebraska children is at the heart of We Care for Kids. The campaign aims to support families with resources and tools to help them recognize and seek out quality early care and learning for their children, especially in under-resourced communities. A special focus is the importance of early childhood professionals and the need to ensure that they are supported and can afford to stay in the profession.
The campaign provides families with information on quality early childhood education through a new website that provides easy access to local early education programs and providers and a host of other resources that have been developed by state agencies and organizations, including the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, the Nebraska Department of Education, Nebraska Extension, and First Five Nebraska. A new community toolkit provides resources to support local efforts and comes ahead of a state media campaign that begins later this summer.
“As a campaign partner, Communities for Kids is already working in 51 Nebraska communities to help address the shortage of options for quality early childhood education,” said Marti Beard, vice president of early childhood programs at the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation and a driving force behind supporting local efforts. “We Care for Kids will bring the stories of Nebraska communities to light and is an important galvanizing force for our efforts statewide.”
We Care for Kids launches at a time of great strain for early childhood programs and, in particular, the professionals who care for and teach young children. In addition to a statewide shortage of programs – 91% of Nebraska counties with child care facilities do not have enough available places to meet the demand – the ongoing pandemic has taken a toll on the early childhood workforce. Two-thirds of licensed center-based providers recently surveyed by the Buffett Institute said they were experiencing turnover, and of those providers, nearly 70% reported that staff had left the profession. Nine in 10 providers employing staff have had extreme difficulty hiring for open positions, citing a lack of applicants and inability to offer sufficient pay, among other reasons.
“We Care for Kids embraces the critical role early childhood educators have in our children’s lives. My community, like many others in Nebraska, needs more quality early childhood educators so that families can work and know that their children are being prepared for success in school and life,” said Colten Venteicher, who is a member of the campaign’s advisory group and helps lead community efforts in Gothenburg. “Early childhood educators become an important part of families with young children and play a huge role in helping Nebraska communities thrive. They are an extension of our community and an important part of our family.”
Nebraskans are encouraged to visit NebraskaCaresForKids.org to learn more and sign up to join the campaign. Early childhood educators are invited to share their stories via the website and the campaign will offer additional resources over time. Information and materials are available in Spanish at Portodoslosninos.org.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Preschool Development Birth-Five Grant, the Holland Foundation, and the Buffett Early Childhood Institute provide funding for the campaign.