From Our Executive Director
ECA helps to start children on path to education success
Child care. Learning center. Preschool. Are they the same? High-quality programs for young children encompass all these things: care, learning and school preparation.
Early Childhood Alliance’s two learning centers in Fort Wayne include the educational component of preschool while providing the extended hours of child care. In fact, learning begins at birth, which means infants as well as preschoolers in a quality program are developing skills that help prepare them for kindergarten and beyond from the very beginning.
That’s good news for parents who wonder whether they need to move their children from one program to another for the education aspect. The answer is no – early learning is built in to high-quality programs.
How can parents know whether a program provides quality care and education? Paths to Quality is Indiana’s quality rating and improvement system, developed right here in Allen County. It rates child care programs on four levels based on a program’s quality, from the basic health and safety requirements of Level 1 to the planned curriculum and national accreditation of Level 4. Enrollment in Paths to Quality is voluntary, so programs that choose not to enroll only need to meet minimum state standards to operate. ECA’s Centers are Level 4, meaning they have achieved the highest level of standards in the industry, including learning activities, advanced staff credentials, a planned curriculum and national accreditation.
What does quality care and education cost? According to the 2014 Cost of Child Care Report from Child Care Aware, the average annual cost for infant care in Indiana was $6,000 to $8,000 in child care centers or family child care homes; $5,000 to $6,500 for a 4-year-old.
As with any type of service, cost can increase with quality. But ECA, along with other area programs, offers various types of tuition assistance – a sliding fee scale, vouchers, scholarships – to help parents access quality, affordable care and education. And that is where community support comes in. Organizations and individuals help ECA raise the 40 percent of its operating expenses needed beyond grants, revenue and government-based income. Collaborations with United Ways, other partner agencies and non-profits, and individuals and businesses across ECA’s 10-county service area help ECA provide a variety of programs and services for families, early education providers and the community.
One example of collaboration addresses spaces for Fort Wayne’s Rescue Mission families in our Downtown Center, a collaboration established several years ago based on that organization’s request. ECA’s outreach is not limited to our own two Learning Centers, however. ECA is this region’s Child Care Resource and Referral agency, one of nine such agencies in the state. Through the agency, ECA provides free child care search assistance plus training and mentoring of other early education providers and programs. We also offer family support programs.
Along with the question of initial cost to families, we need to ask about the cost to children, families and the community if children don’t experience quality care and education during early childhood. Research shows that every $1 spent in early education saves taxpayers $7 to $10 in the areas of remediation, financial assistance and law enforcement. Can we afford not to invest in early care and education? Whatever we call it – child care, early learning or preschool – early childhood education is key to a child’s future and the future of communities throughout Indiana.
Madeleine Baker is executive director of the Early Childhood Alliance. She wrote this for The Journal Gazette. It was published as an editorial on January 4, 2015.