It is important to recognize that unlike the K-12 education system, which is organized, formalized, and acknowledged as essential, the early learning system for children from birth to elementary school age is not. There are numerous reasons and dynamics that contribute to this situation.
Especially given this complex “stage,” ensuring that all children are prepared to learn, work, and function successfully in school is not simple.
Just as children’s development is multi-faceted, so must be the systems that are responsive to their needs. There are many components and functions that must be incorporated in building and sustaining a strong early childhood system, both at the community and the state level. One important building block of a system is the core set of services available to children and their families.
Virginia invests in evidence-based and evidence-informed programs and services that address the school readiness needs of families and young children. In every community, there are existing resources and programs for families needing assistance, often mandated and funded through federal block grants. Publicly provided programs are available to individuals because they meet a particular requirement, yet the programs vary across the state in availability, quality of delivery, and accountability to results.
In a well-functioning system, targeted programs and strategic services should be accessible, implemented with fidelity, and accountable to demonstration of effectiveness. In order to discern whether Virginia’s programs and services are effective and efficient, we must acknowledge that there are gaps in our knowledge that hinder our ability to fully understand and address the strengths and failures of the system.
As we examine each program as an important component of the whole, we must explore:
We often assume a cohesive, functioning system but if we unpack and look at each component, we may discern areas of gap and inefficiency – cracks through which children and families fall. Sometimes invested funds are not fully or effectively used and leveraged. To ensure that communities and families can maximize available resources for young children takes expertise and skillful knitting at the local level.
While the following list is not exhaustive, in this section we examine some of the “working parts” – core services and publicly-funded programs that function within Virginia’s system, as well as a public-private venture that works to serve as the “glue” to make a coherent system out of the collage of public programs provided at the community level. These programs are shown in areas of:
PDF version of official printed report.