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The economic benefits of early care and education.

As more kids enter kindergarten unprepared, advocates for high-quality early care and education that support children in learning from birth are speaking up. The child care program plays an important role in helping children prepare for school and for success in life. High-quality child care provides children with a safe, nurturing environment that promotes school readiness, high school completion and skill-building for a successful life. However, some parents, policymakers and government administration officials, and members of the public do not understand the huge economic benefits of early care and education. Some studies have shown a return of as much as $17 for every $1 invested in high-quality ECE programs. Below is a summary of both the short-term and long-term economic benefits of these programs.

Advocates for investing in high-quality ECE typically make the case that early investments produce long-term benefits for children and society. ECE programs, like high-quality child care, help children develop cognitive and behavioral skills. Studies also show that children who receive quality ECE are less likely to need special education when they get older. The costs of special education in the United States are substantial. According to the U.S. Department of Education, $12.32 billion was spent for fiscal year 2010. ECE has also been proven to reduce grade retention, which is costly for both the education system and society.

Investing early decreases societal burdens, such as crime. Children that receive high-quality ECE are less likely to commit crimes, and if they do, they are less likely to be repeat offenders. According to the U.S. House and Senate Committees on Appropriations, the Department of Commerce and Justice received $6.2 billion for prisons during fiscal year 2010.

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Imagine the benefits our society would receive if we could redirect those prison funds toward early education for children.

Investing early has been shown to decrease the number of teen pregnancies, as well as reducing the need for welfare services. Conversely, children who benefit from high-quality ECE are likely to earn more during their lifetime. In fact, longitudinal studies of effective ECEs such as the Perry Preschool and Carolina Abecedarian programs show that these children attain higher levels of education. They are more likely to graduate from high school and go on to college than their counterparts who do not receive ECE.

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We also invite those who are more interested in the immediate, proximal effects that high-quality ECE have on the economy to participate in this conversation. One of these short-term benefits is the direct impact of ECE on the workforce. Studies have shown that by providing families, especially single mothers, with high-quality ECE for their children, parents feel more confident about the well-being of their children and are more likely to enter the workforce, which can simulate the economy. The stability of care and peace of mind offers parents the time needed to job-hunt, interview and accept new positions, and more importantly, keep their jobs. This connection is extremely important with today's high unemployment rates.

Another important short-term benefit is the connection between high-quality ECE and lower rates of employee absenteeism. Research indicates that parents who have their children enrolled in a high-quality ECE setting attend work more often because they have safe, stable care and do not have to search for multiple, often unreliable, babysitters for their children. Their ability to maintain their employment status reduces the need for societal resources such as welfare, as discussed earlier.

Whether we focus on long- or short- term effects, the cost for not investing early is too high. Interventions offered later in life may work to some degree but are not as effective as those opportunities offered early in life. Late interventions, such as GED classes and vocational training programs, are also more costly than ECE programs.

Whitley O'Neill was APHSA's Children and Family Services summer intern.
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Title Annotation:the field works
Author:O'Neill, Whitley
Publication:Policy & Practice
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2010
Words:642
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