My students did not come to me from nowhere on that first day of school. I was not their first teacher. Families told me tales of a patchwork of child care and early childhood services, cobbled together for their child’s first three years.
As a policy expert in early care and education, I usually approach my advocacy from a systems and research perspective. I taught pre-k first in a dilapidated former Catholic school and, second, in a construction trailer on the tennis courts of a middle school. While the conditions were not prime, my teachers and I worked day in and day out to provide a safe, nurturing environment for our four-year-olds.
A mountain of barriers block families from the services they need and deserve
Once they were in pre-k, getting to school every day wasn’t a given: whether parents’ nontraditional schedules, younger siblings’ lack of reliable child care, or asthma so bad the one-hour bus ride and walk wasn’t worth the risk, there was a mountain of barriers blocking families from the services they need and deserve.
Our students came to us with a plethora of both physical and mental health needs. Needs that, while we tried our best, I couldn’t help but wonder how healthier, developmentally aligned my students could be if they had had larger access to the programs the Birth-to-Three Act strengthens and expands. The first three years of life sees rapid growth—nearly 1 million new neural connections are formed every second. I know the return on investment for these programs, especially home visiting, can see: for every one dollar we invest we see $4 to $16 returns to our economy.
Systems change does not happen overnight
But small, one-time investments will not see the returns we are promised by research. Children’s brains develop best when they have consistent access to high-quality services and programs that take into account the full spectrum of families’ needs. The Birth-to-Three Act is a systemic approach to building a better, as in higher quality, more accessible, more affordable, and more equitable, early care and learning landscape for families to navigate.
We can choose to cobble together small, temporary solutions for our families, much like our families do when finding child care and services for their children. Or, we can fully fund the Birth-to-Three Act, a comprehensive, long term solution for DC.
Lauren Robertson is a Ward 6 resident.