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The early years a crucial time in determining future success

LORY POUNDERsummit daily newsSummit County, CO Colorado
Summit Daily/Kristin Anderson
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FRISCO By age 4, the brain is 80 percent developed. However, public dollars to support children don’t really kick in until age 5.”We want to bring those lines together,” said Laurie Beckel, staff director for Colorado Early Childhood and School Readiness Commission. “It’s putting dollars into quality programs during a time in early childhood, making sure all families get support. … We want quality programs to stimulate babies’ brains and not just park them in front of a television.”This week, Beckel presented information about Smart Start Colorado to educators, parents, early child care advocates and health officials from about 10 counties at a meeting at the Summit County Community and Senior Center near Frisco.Impacting children early means increased graduation rates, reduced crime, fewer children in special education programs the more prepared children are from birth to age 8, the more successful they’ll be in the future, she said. The return on the investment in early care is somewhere between $4 to $17 for every $1 spent, she added.Currently, the state is lacking resources, has capacity issues and is in need of strong leadership to move public dollars into the world of early childhood care. There is a long way to go, and this issue affects everyone in the community from employers to teachers, childcare officials said.The goal of Smart Start, a statewide alliance of early childhood partnerships which began three years ago with a federal Maternal Child and Health Grant, is to improve the quality and capacity of care and to infuse providers with more resources. The vision is to have all children thrive and be valued. The motto is to get them ready for school and ready for life.

To make that happen, it takes early care and education, health care, mental health, family support and parent education, the organization said. Also, a common set of standards to be accountable is needed, as well as credentials for care providers to ensure quality.Katrina Boykin, professional development coordinator at Smart Start Colorado, said that currently 1,780 care providers throughout the state have applied for credentials that include a variety of levels – from those who’ve taken two care classes to those with master’s degrees or above. Ideally, the providers will have an associate’s degree or better, she said.”As Colorado residents we need to embrace all children. … We’re all in this together,” Boykin said.Lory Pounder can be reached at (970) 668-4628, or at lpounder@summitdaily.com.

Sidebar: Lieutenant Governor’s Office fighting for childrenThe issue of early childhood care was “severely neglected the last eight years in terms of the executive branch of government,” Bruce Atchison, Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien’s chief of staff, started off saying at a Smart Start Colorado forum in Frisco this week.”Early childhood efforts have been happening. There just hasn’t been the leadership,” he continued.However, now that Gov. Bill Ritter and O’Brien are in office, strong leadership is ready to carry out what is needed to have an impact, Atchison said. “Gov. Ritter has given our office the charge to do this.”O’Brien spent about 15 yeas as president of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, during which time she worked to create and grow the Colorado Small Schools Initiative and create a Child Health Plan for uninsured children. Atchison also has a history of dealing with child care issues.Right now, they are looking at what the early child care system needs. Within 12 to 18 months they hope to have that answer and something in place, possibly through legislation, so it will carry on past Ritter’s administration, Atchison said.

Also, the lieutenant governor’s office is currently interviewing for a Smart Start director who will be housed at the state Capital building. They want state collaboration with a Head Start leader in the office and possibly a third person to make a team to drive the work on early child care issues, Atchison said.One of the areas the office is exploring is why thousands of eligible children in the state are not using the Child Health Plan. Also, they are analyzing why there is $3.1 million that is available and not being spent on the Child Care Assistance Program. “We know the families are there,” Atchison said.”State government has to be more accountable, but the local level also has to be accountable,” he said.At the local level, initiatives like the 1A Right Start Program in Summit County can make a difference, he said. The work needs to be “a public/private partnership.””We want outcomes for kids. … I promise you we are working on this,” said Atchison, along with a reminder that the administration is only in their ninth week. Lory Pounder


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