La. should focus on child care for youngest children

The American Press

Louisiana needs to improve its availability of affordable child care. The numbers are startling, especially when you consider the nearly 212,000 children ages birth to 4 statewide who are part of low-income families.

Of those eligible for public programs, only 5 percent are infants, 9 percent are 1-year-olds, and 13 percent are 2-year-olds.

These statistics improve for 3-year-olds (35 percent) and 4-year-olds (93 percent).

The numbers increase with older children, but the state certainly is lacking when it comes to offering care for our youngest. And national experts are taking notice.

Louise Stoney is the co-founder of the Alliance for Early Childhood Finance and the Opportunities Exchange. The Advocate reported her remarks to the Early Childhood Care and Education Commission — a 37-member panel that is assigned with trying to research ways to open up care and education for children from birth to 4 years old. State lawmakers will hear recommendations from the commission in February.

Stoney acknowledged the cost associated with opening more care for children, especially considering the state’s ongoing budget problems. It usually costs thousands of dollars more per child to care for an infant and toddler than it does for a 3 or 4-year-old. State financial assistance helps, but still leaves the costs high.

Children need this care during these developmental years. It is considered a way to make sure they are ready once they start Kindergarten. Plus, it helps those mothers who have to return to work to support a young child.

Where do these solutions lie? Stoney said the money needs to come from the local, state and federal levels. Also, the state shouldn’t make the mistake of overbuilding care centers until existing ones are full.

Stoney acknowledged that there isn’t “enough money to do all that we want to do.” But doing nothing will just make a bad problem worse.

Offering child care for poor families is key, but it’s going to take money for that to happen. The Early Childhood Care and Education Commission should take the remarks from Stoney and other experts and turn them into possible solutions that can turn these dismal figures around.

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