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The federal debate over "Build Back Better" has everyone who loves and cares for children holding our breath. The huge bill includes a plan for historic investment in child care and early learning, representing a sea change for families, early childhood educators, and the future for every child. The significance of what the impact of the passage of this bill could be for the promise of early childhood in this country cannot be overstated: It will in fact flip the switch of opportunity and access and transform the way we educate and care for children from birth.
At last, an opportunity to create the early childhood infrastructure that other industrialized nations have in place. If passed we could finally provide affordable, quality, accessible early childhood education and care for every child. The promise that families will have real options, and that we can pay early childhood educators and caregivers the wages they so deserve—who after parents, have the single most important role in a child's early development—would be revolutionary.
The Build Back Better plan and its investments would save families thousands of dollars annually, while finally recognizing and fairly compensating the early childhood educators and care providers whose support make our economy possible. The act would invest roughly $390 billion in lowering the cost of child care and securing universal pre-K for three- and four-year-olds.
It sounds like a dream come true.
But for the programs to deliver the promise of long-term success, they must include a commitment to fostering the building blocks of emotional intelligence in a child’s earliest years. To do this we need a commitment to the training and support for educators who teach and care for them. And just as importantly, we need to ensure we are focusing on educators’ own emotional well-being and provide them with not just training but the support structure they need to successfully implement that training and to also have confidence that their own emotions and experiences are heard, respected and validated.
We know the child’s impressionable brain achieves 90 percent of its development before the age of five. And because children develop within the context of relationships, this growth is significantly influenced by responsive relationships with the key adults in their world, including teachers. When we train our educators in best practices to reinforce the core competencies of emotional competence, self-regulation, and empathy—throughout the day, every day—we are optimizing an invaluable window of opportunity.
Evidence-based research shows that these critical skills have tremendous impact on both present and future learning, reducing behavioral problems, increasing rates of retention throughout school, improving pro-social skills, and providing real opportunity to close the gaps and open doors to success for every child. If we truly want to commit to our children's futures we need to ensure we are laying the foundation of emotional intelligence from the start. It is not hyperbole to say that the future depends upon it. As we slowly emerge from this unprecedented time that has left so much emotional damage in its wake we need to make a commitment to helping every child, educator and family develop an emotional toolkit for life-one they can reach for not just in this time, but for all time.
There’s no question the status quo in our country isn’t sustainable. Women struggle to remain in the workforce, dealing with a lack of affordable, high-quality child care. And early educators are leaving the field because of low pay, high stress, and inadequate professional development and personal satisfaction. You can love what you do, but there’s a limit on how that commitment work when the support structure just doesn’t.
We have such an extraordinary opportunity-we can build a strong future for every child, provide educators with the training and support and opportunity they so deserve and give families accessible and affordable solutions for care and education. If passed Build Back Better's early childhood provisions could throw the doors open to transformative change, change we really can’t afford not to realize.