By Cole Behrens
Ohioans worried about child care packed into the Statehouse’s Ladies Gallery on Wednesday to launch a campaign they hope will ensure that disadvantaged pregnant women, infants, toddlers and preschoolers can access all the services they need.
Groundwork Ohio, a policy research and advocacy organization, announced the launch of Ready, Set, Soar Ohio, a broad coalition of childhood-development stakeholders including health professionals, child care instructors and youth advocacy groups that is focused on child development from the prenatal period to age 3.
Half of all infants and toddlers in Ohio are part of families with incomes of 200% or less of the federal poverty level, according to Ready, Set, Soar Ohio. Additionally, only 41% of all Ohio children enter kindergarten prepared to learn.
“Our greatest opportunity to close gaps, whether in health or educational outcomes, is where they begin — during the first three years of a child’s life, when 80% of brain growth is happening,” said Shannon Jones, executive director of Groundwork Ohio.
The “ready” aspect of the coalition strives to ensure that pregnant women and infants have access to health care, developmental screenings and early-intervention service.
Melissa Wervey Arnold, CEO of the Ohio chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said that screening infants for developmental challenges and such health risks as obesity and lead poisoning is essential to ensuring that children develop correctly.
“The trajectory of development during the prenatal period to age 3 positions children for future success and a foundation of lifelong positive education and health outcomes,” Wervey Arnold said.
The “set” aspect of the campaign seeks to ensure that children are prepared to enter early-childhood education and that all families have access to child care.
This would include increasing the access of disadvantaged families and children to at-home visits by professional childhood-development and health services.
According to Ready, Set, Soar Ohio, Franklin County has 329 families receiving home visits through the state-funded Help Me Grow program.
The final aspect of the campaign — “soar” — aims to increase access to high-quality learning environments staffed by professionals.
The coalition also hopes to expand access to publicly funded child care by increasing eligibility to 200% of the poverty level. Ohio families now qualify only if they earn less than 130% of the threshold, according to liberal advocacy group Policy Matters Ohio.
Cole Behrens is a fellow at the E.W. Scripps Statehouse News Bureau.