Thursday, July 9, 2009

What Can U.S. Policymakers Learn From Other Countries About Early Childhood Policies?

An outstanding new report has been released by The Commonwealth Fund entitled "An International Comparison of Early Childhood Initiatives: From Services to Systems" that examines the early childhood systems from four countries and identifies the lessons for the United States:

Despite evidence of how much the early years contribute to later health and educational attainment; there is, as yet, no clearly articulated U.S. policy on this most important period of life. There are a number of possible explanations, all of which conspire to limit progress on early childhood policy in the United States-

  • Much of children’s well-being depends on circumstances within the home, and typically, these have not been an incitement to government intervention.
  • Existing government programs that serve young children utilize a deficit model, are marginally funded, and operate in a maze of local, state, and nationalfunding streams, with little communication or coordination across health, education, and social services sectors.
  • Measures of what constitutes high-quality care for young children are insufficient and require further development. The least tangible aspects of caregiving that are most difficult to measure—mutual trust, positive affect, nurturance, responsiveness—are likely to be most important for the child’s long-term well-being.

The U.S. is not the only country to struggle with early childhood policy directions. England, Canada, and Australia all started with similarly fragmented early childhood services, a penchant for market-based solutions, and a desire to limit reliance on the welfare state. Families in each of these countries are facing similar pressures resulting from long hours at work, irregular work schedules, and limited child care options. This report describes components of each country’s efforts to respond to the importance of the early years and to develop policies that they hope will produce lasting gains for their youngest citizens. It also considers the implications of their experiences for the development of early childhood policy in the U.S.

Policies to support early childhood and academic success.

(Hat tip to Grantmakers for Children, Youth and Families.)

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