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From Baby to Big Kid

An e-newsletter that showcases how children learn and grow each month from birth to 3 years. From Baby to Big Kid translates the science of early childhood and offers strategies parents can tailor to their unique family situation and to the needs of their child.
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A Year After #Rally4Babies, Signs that Washington Increasingly Gets the Message

Congress returns to Washington today after the July 4th recess. The 2015 appropriations process for many programs serving infants and toddlers has hit the summer doldrums, with few prospects for speedy resolution. Still, with the first anniversary of the #Rally4Babies tomorrow (July 8), we should take stock of recent signs that Washington increasingly “gets it” that learning happens from the start—and so should our investments. Thinking about how that message has resonated should give us clues to how to keep the rally going.

Before the aforesaid appropriations process ground to a halt, the Senate Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education sent a clear signal that very young children were still very much on their minds—and their priority list. A proposed increase of $348 million for early learning included a $65 million bump-up (from $500 million in 2014) for Early Head Start (EHS)-Child Care Partnerships; an additional $100 million for child care; and an additional $100 million for preschool development grants. Consideration of the bill by the full Committee seems on long-term hold, and the House has yet to schedule any sessions on funding for these programs. While it looks like funding levels won’t be resolved until this fall or even after the election, we should take every opportunity to underscore the need to continue early learning funding momentum.

While this process plays out, we should celebrate two very real accomplishments regarding services for young children and families. One is the extension of the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program for an additional 6 months with a full year of money ($400 million). The other will send a lot of real dollars—500 million of them—to improve early care and learning experiences for infants and toddlers flowing down to communities later this year through the EHS-Child Care Partnership grants. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the application details in June. (Check ZERO TO THREE’s webpage for resources.) Buzz from the field suggests real excitement about this opportunity to change the way we think about the various settings in which very young children spend their days. Fundamental to this change is the understanding that babies’ brain development is molded by the quality of whatever experiences come their way—not by labeling a program as “educational” or just a “work support.” With 6 million infants and toddlers in child care, some for many hours a week, a lot of brain construction is going on in that space.

The importance of child care to infant-toddler development has not been lost of some Members of Congress. The Strong Start for America’s Children Act (S. 1697, H.R. 3461), introduced by Senator Tom Harkin (IA) in the Senate and Representatives George Miller (CA), Richard Hanna (NY), and Michael Grimm (NY) in the House, included an authorization for the EHS-Child Care Partnerships as well as the option for states to set aside part of the big PreK funding stream for infants and toddlers. Senator Harkin went especially big for babies with a $4 billion funding target for the partnerships (compared to $1.4 billion in the House bill and the President’s proposal).  The Senate also passed a reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant that created a 3% set-aside of funds to improve the quality of infant-toddler care, incorporating parts of Senator Al Franken’s Infant and Toddler Care Improvement Act (S. 1065).

In the past few months, two House Members have picked up the baton for babies. In May, newly-elected Representative Katherine Clark (MA) introduced as her first bill, companion legislation (H.R. 4680) to the Franken bill. In June, Representative Lois Frankel (FL) introduced H.R. 5000, which would provide $2 billion in mandatory child care funds to expand access to child care for infants and toddlers and authorize $500 million in discretionary funding for quality improvement activities. By singling out infants and toddlers, these bills show the message is getting through that quality child care matters when it comes to supporting the development of the youngest children.

So what have we learned since the #Rally4Babies? To be honest, we understand these are relatively small steps forward in light of the fact that almost half of all babies and toddlers live in distressed economic circumstances. But we also know we can make a difference. We need to celebrate the fact that early care and learning was a big priority in a tight budget year, and that a large portion of the increases went to programs serving infants and toddlers. This wouldn’t have happened without the thousands of signatures on the Baby Rally petition that generated almost 200,000 messages to the President and Congress or the phone calls to ask for cosponsors for various bills. Efforts to extend MIECHV on a “Doc fix” bill might have fulfilled the prophesy of mission impossible, but for these voices and the field’s tireless efforts to educate legislators on what home visiting means for parents who want to do the right thing in nurturing their children’s early development. While PreK still gets the most attention in the overall early learning agenda, the voice for babies has gotten appreciably louder. As this agenda has evolved, it has become more pointedly birth-to-five, and child care is becoming a more recognized part of the mix.  

What do we do next? More of the same. We can’t let our efforts, our energy, or our voices flag, even if immediate opportunities for moving forward don’t present themselves. Look for openings to contact Congressional offices. For example, ask your Members to cosponsor bills, identify legislative assistants who work on children’s issues and send information from your state about the importance of the first years for later success in school and life (stumped? try your state’s Baby Facts) or attend town hall meetings and ask questions about what policymakers will do to ensure our future workforce is prepared. Watch for alerts on Strong Start for Children activities in which you can participate and highlight the fact that learning happens from the start.  

The past year’s effort from the entire early childhood community has created a buzz about early learning that we can’t let diminish. We need to keep it up. Only then will advances in early care and learning policy move from being, in policymakers’ eyes, a nice thing we could do to being something we as a nation must do.




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Rockefeller Bill Champions CHIP and Seeks Home Visiting Extension

Any parent of a new baby or a toddler knows they spend more time at the pediatrician’s office than at any other stage. For the youngest children, access to routine health care can spell the difference between a strong beginning and a fragile start. Today, Senator Jay Rockefeller (WV) introduced legislation to prevent some young children from losing critical access to health insurance next year by extending funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), now assured only through FY 2015. CHIP covers children in lower income families that don’t qualify for Medicaid. Thanks to Senator Rockefeller, continuing this lifeline for children who used to fall between the health care cracks is being put on Congress’ radar screen.

Ensuring children’s access to health insurance is one of the great public policy success stories. Between 1997 and 2012, Medicaid and CHIP have cut in half the percentage of children without health insurance, dropping it from 14% to 7%. Letting CHIP funding expire would mean millions of children would lose access to affordable health insurance or the quality services they access through CHIP.

The CHIP Extension Act of 2014 would extend funding for the program through September 30, 2019, the end of the period through which states are required to maintain their CHIP programs. Keeping CHIP going is important to give the state health insurance exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act time to mature and iron out any issues with appropriate services for children.

The bill also includes a provision to extend the federal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program. The so-called “Doc Fix” bill passed on March 31 of this year only extended MIECHV until March 31, 2015. By including a further extension in his bill, Senator Rockefeller is signaling that such an important program for children and families cannot be left to run on short-term deadlines.

In addition to extending CHIP funding, the bill would refine some of the current program requirements. A summary of the bill can be found here. Proposed changes that would particularly support early health and development of infants and toddlers include:

  • Enrolling newborns automatically, as Medicaid already does;
  • Improving access to preventive services, particularly immunizations and screenings not currently covered;
  • Making Express Lane Eligibility (which streamlines the eligibility process by relying on information from other designated programs) permanent to maximize enrollment for children and pregnant women;
  • Extending demonstration programs focusing on perinatal care coordination and childhood obesity;
  • Covering former foster kids to age 26, even if they move from state to state (important to babies, because many of these young adults will become parents, so their health has an impact on their children’s health); and of course,
  • Extending MIECHV.

In addition, the bill would provide important new baby-friendly options that states could choose, including more comprehensive coverage for pregnant women; improved dental services and oral care; raising eligibility to 300% of the Federal Poverty Level; increasing access to coverage for children with special health needs; and doing away with CHIP premiums.

By introducing this bill, Senator Rockefeller lets us and, more importantly, his Senate colleagues know that someone is keeping watch over programs important to young children. It also is a painful reminder that another great children’s champion is leaving Congress after this term. Along with Senator Tom Harkin (IA) and Representative George Miller (CA), who also are retiring, Senator Rockefeller brings decades of knowledge and experience to crafting and moving legislation to make sure our young children get a good start in life. Some stalwarts remain and new champions are arising, but these three will be keenly missed. Let’s hope legislation such as the CHIP Extension Act and the Strong Start for America’s Children Act will be enacted and become fitting bookends to their legacies.

For more information on policies supporting good physical health for infants and toddlers, read our policy brief Leading the Way to a Strong Beginning.




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First Look: Application for EHS-Child Care Partnerships Hits the Street!

It’s been less than a year since we all joined together to #Rally4Babies and assert that learning happens from the start—and so should our investments. Yet, already we have a very tangible step forward for infants and toddlers. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) just released the widely anticipated Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) for grants to expand Early Head Start (EHS) or form Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships.

These grants came about because, in the wake of the President’s early learning initiative, the early care and education community advocated for the needs of infants and toddlers, and Congress responded with $500 million in total funding from Fiscal Year 2014 appropriations—a big win for babies in a tight budget year. These grants not only will expand resources for early care and learning for infants and toddlers. They also will provide an exciting opportunity for the field to engage in creative thinking and doing around high-quality services for vulnerable young children across settings.

Applicants will have 75 days to digest the application requirements and get their proposals electronically to HHS. The Department has a centralized webpage for all things related to the grants, including how to apply and FAQ’s.

We’ll be going through the announcement and analyzing in greater detail, but here is a first look at some things to note:

  • High-Quality Services: All entities applying must provide high-quality, comprehensive, and continuous early care and education for infants and toddlers in centers and/or family child care homes. Eligible entities include public entities, such as states, and private non-profit or for-profit entities, including community- or faith-based organizations. Organizations that seek to build a birth-to-five continuum of services will receive priority. All applicants must describe transition plans for the children as they leave EHS programs.
          
  • Funding and Award Levels: While $500 million was  appropriated, the FOA says HHS may fund up to $650 million. This level leaves room to draw on applications submitted through this current process should additional funding be provided for FY 2015, as requested by the Administration’s budget. The award ceiling for individual grants is slightly under $55 million, but the average award is expected to be $1.5 million.
              
  • Funding Allocations: The available funds will be allocated by formula among the states. These allocation levels are simply the total amount for grants to be awarded in individual states. They do NOT mean that the funds flow automatically to states. Even if a state agency is applying for funds, other eligible entities within the state should not hesitate to apply as well.
               
  • Ages of Children: The appropriations language specified that the grants can be used for serving children from birth through age 3. In practice, however, only family child care programs will be able to use these grant funds to serve 3-year-olds. Center-based programs can only apply to serve children from birth through age 2. Determining a simple way to incorporate 3-year-olds in center-based programs, where Head Start standards are very different from those governing EHS programs, proved elusive at this stage of the process. 
          
  • Types of Proposals: Potential grantees can submit proposals for one of three different approaches to increase the number of children in spaces meeting EHS standards. The first is a pure partnership approach, in which all funded EHS slots would be offered through child care partnerships. The second would be a pure expansion of an existing EHS program or the creation of a new one. The third would be a mixture of the first two. Pure partnership applications get extra review points and top priority. Mixed approaches with at least 50 percent of children served      through partnerships get a high priority, but no extra points. 
             
  • Child Care Subsidies: Partnership applications must demonstrate that at least 25 percent of EHS-eligible children served in slots funded by the grant will have child care subsidies. Programs that can raise that proportion to 40 percent will get bonus points. HHS recommends, but does not require, that applicants propose providing at least 72 slots to adequately support staffing and infrastructure needs.
          
  • Priority Communities: Proposed programs in Promise Zones or high-poverty Zip codes will receive additional points.
          
  • Start-up Costs: Funds for activities such as facility renovations, classroom supply purchases, licensing, etc., to help programs get off the ground can be requested and would be separate from the base operational budget to serve children.
          
  • Matching Funds: Grantees must provide 20 percent of the total cost of the project, in accordance with Head Start requirements.

HHS emphasizes that right away potential applicants should take note of the procedures for submitting applications so they will do so correctly and on time and not get tripped up by seemingly simple tasks that can complicate submissions, especially for first time applicants for federal grants. The FOA includes resources to help develop proposals as well as a method by which to ask HHS questions.

In addition, the ZERO TO THREE Policy Center has created a webpage of resources relevant to the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships. These resources will help programs, communities, and states consider how they can best structure and implement partnerships. A new fact sheet from the Policy Center on how partnerships can benefit young children and families is included. Explore these resources at www.zerotothree.org/ehs-ccpartnerships.




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National Infant and Toddler Child Care InitiativeComing Together Around Military FamiliesNational Training InstituteEarly Head Start

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