Rethinking Early Childhood Policy: Finding Our Way Out of the Silos

The memory of former New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan reverberates some 16 years after his passing, especially when it comes to his sometimes provocative but always impassioned stances on the systemic barriers and disadvantages for poor and underserved communities within the United States. Furthermore, his explicit warning of the risks associated with placing government programs over government policy has contextual weight in many areas, especially when it comes to our country’s current adherence to a program-first public policy in the area of government-sponsored early childhood policy.

The bulk of United States early childhood policy tends to fragment early childhood policy into silos based upon the aims and reach of each program, rather than coalescing things into a coordinated approach which strengthens all of the programs in hopes of reaching a common goal of serving children better across the board. If we could reshape and rethink early childhood policy in the relative image of the Employment Act of 1946 which broadened the scope to ensure the government had the leeway and ability to promote maximum employment in a variety of ways over a wide swath of programs, we might be able to neutralize the silo effect.

Building a comprehensive approach to early childhood policy

The sheer number of early childhood programs across the public and private sectors is daunting and unwieldy, making coordination of these program’s aims towards a common good impossible without a comprehensive and complete rethink of our overall public policy approach. The right sweeping public policy agenda would help to earmark limited public resources for the most crucial and effective programs to the overall agenda of early childhood development. 

Multiple studies have reinforced that the first five years of a child’s life serve as the most crucial when it comes to potential economic success for that child during their adult years, but there is no current comprehensive public policy approach which takes the weight of this into account to better serve our nation’s children. A fragmented approach has only served to exacerbate the problem at hand, leaving the children most in need of help out in the cold in favor of the diminished wealth of a large amount of unorganized early childhood programs.

What would a change to early childhood policy look like?

The first charge of a sea change in early childhood policy would be the acceptance of the benchmark claims of the science of early childhood development, adversity, and resilience. Promoting healthy relationships between children, their caregivers and the community at large is critical while tailoring programs to help build those healthy relationships would be a prime objective.

Other key aspects of a sweeping change to early childhood policy in the United States should include a broader overall policy approach which allows leeway to alter course and types of programs to serve the shifting needs of the early childhood populace, an interdisciplinary approach which shuttles all types of early childhood programs towards the same greater good, a full acknowledgment and rethink of the limitations of current United States social policy, and a spotlight on the interconnections between systems and policies which highlights the importance of strengthening those interconnections to help support families with young children in need.

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