High-quality infant and toddler care provided by parents, families, and well-trained caregivers delivers the social-emotional, early learning, and literacy development support all young children need.
Income-based disparities in cognitive development emerge among infants as young as 9 months old and continue to widen as they grow older. By age 3, children in more affluent families will have heard 30 million more words than children in low-income families. And because children’s vocabulary development at age 3 is predictive of 3rd grade achievement, these early differences increase the likelihood that low-income children will lag behind middle- and high-income peers in future school readiness and student achievement. Nearly half (49%) of California’s 2 million 0-3 year-olds live in low-income families.
Access to high-quality infant and toddler care establishes the foundation all children need in order to develop their ability to think, concentrate, problem solve, and interact with others. However, California’s licensed childcare centers can only accommodate 40,340 infants, or 4% of the state’s children under age 2. Furthermore, California recently ranked 50th out of all states on program licensing standards and oversight, and did not meet benchmarks related to teacher education and training, or facility inspections.
Early Head Start is a large provider of high-quality care and access to preventive health and social services to low-income pregnant women and families with children, up to age 3. Despite its positive effect on children’s cognitive, linguistic, and social-emotional development, as well as parental self-sufficiency and healthy family functioning, more than 300,000 eligible California children and their families are not enrolled in this program. Moreover, only 6 percent of income-eligible children under age 3 are served by any publicly supported program.
California must provide all infants and toddlers with access to high-quality early care and education programs starting at birth. Specifically, the state should work to restore access to early care and education programs cut in recent years, including the 100,000 spaces eliminated for low-income children since 2008. The state should also explore ways to increase child care
subsidies for additional low-income children.
President Obama has proposed historic new investments to support infants and toddlers and their families as part of his Early Learning Initiative, including $1.4 billion in 2014 for high-quality child care. In California, new Early Head Start - Child Care Partnerships could provide 40,000 California infants and toddlers with access to higher-quality early care and education.
In 2013, the Governor’s State Advisory Council on Early Learning and Care published California’s Comprehensive Early Learning Plan, which provides long-term recommendations for improving and expanding the state’s early childhood education programs. The plan provides key input on how to develop a coherent, high-quality birth-to-5 system that provides all children with the knowledge and skills they need to achieve long-term success.