Children learn and grow in the contexts of caring, consistent relationships with adults. This is particularly challenging for young children who have grown up surrounded by family stress and chaos or who have been transferred between many foster homes. For many children involved with a child welfare agency, time spent in a high-quality early care & education environment can be the first opportunity for them to experience healthy attachment behavior with responsive adults.
Children involved in the child welfare system are the most at-risk for developmental delays, poor academic success, and socioemotional issues—all of which early education services can help ameliorate, especially for children from often very low-income & vulnerable families.
Yet, only about 12.8% of children under age 5 on LA County’s child welfare caseload attended public early care and education programs in 2011, including Head Start/Early Head Start and subsidized child care/preschool. This is in contrast to the statewide average of about 47% of income-eligible children under five years old who are able to access early learning services (Karoly, 2009).
High quality early learning experiences can positively alter a child’s life course, contribute to family stability, and reduce public assistance and intervention costs. All children under child welfare supervision should be categorically eligible and prioritized for child-care and development services based on current California and Federal law. However, only a little over 2% of all children receiving state subsidized early care and education services in LA County do so because they are receiving protective services, pointing to ineffective policies and practices for enrolling this most vulnerable population in necessary early learning services. If these policies were effective, we would expect abused and neglected children to compose a higher proportion of children accessing care.
Child welfare and early care and education advocates must work together to ensure the well-being of the most at-risk children by increasing their access to early care and education services.
Synchronized efforts between child welfare and early care and education systems that lead to greater child well-being could include:
- Instituting education and developmental need assessments in child welfare case planning.
- Identifying families with children most at-risk and ensure access to high-quality learning programs.
- Targeting early care & education enrollment efforts at the local level to maximize utilization of all available resources.
- Increasing cross-system collaborative efforts between public service agencies and programs to build comprehensive early learning environments.
Policy Priority 1
All at-risk children under child welfare supervision should be identified and referred by child welfare workers and given priority in high-quality public early care and education programs.
Policy Priority 2
Remove barriers to collaboration and coordination between early care and education and child welfare systems.
Policy Priority 3
Build high-quality early care and education systems, meeting the dual goals of prevention and early intervention, by working in tandem with child welfare, public health, mental health, education, and family support agencies.
Foster Kids Get the Early Care They Need
Advancement Project has worked with with Supervisor Kuehl’s office to explore ways to create clarity around state law to prioritize foster children and children with parents who are under DCFS supervision for state funded ECE programs. The L.A .County Child Care Policy Roundtable voted to support the creation of the resolution, which was passed by the board of supervisors on March 17, 2015. This is a huge win for foster youth in Los Angeles County.
On March 17, 2015, the Board of Supervisors directed the Interim Chief Executive Office to:
- Work with our Sacramento advocates to support or pursue legislation to clarify existing law for state-subsidized child development services.
- Send a 5-signature letter to Governor Brown with copies to the County’s Legislative Delegation, in support of such clarifying legislation.
- To read the statement from Supervisor Kuehl’s office, click here.
If you want more information on Advancement Project’s work on young children and child welfare advocacy, please contact Karla Howell here.