Join us for early childhood community forum March 10

How can we give more of our children a great start in life so they have the opportunity to thrive? What does it mean for our children to thrive and how can we best help families?

Durham County, along with the Partnership for Children and the Child Care Services Association, is hosting an early childhood community forum on Saturday, March 10, from 9 a.m. to noon at the Health and Human Services Building, 414 E.t Main St.

We will present information on the “100 Counties – Helping Children Thrive Initiative,” the “Pathways to Grade Level Reading,” and recent reports – including the 2017 State of Durham County’s Young Children and the 2017 Pre-K Task Force Report. (bit.ly/2Dpzmd6) A significant portion of the morning is reserved for community input.

This year Durham County has substantially increased our investment in early childhood by more than doubling the number of locally funded pre-kindergarten classrooms with the opening of the Whitted Pre-K Center. In addition, the county has set aside funds to evaluate the current supply and demand for pre-kindergarten as we evaluate the best means to expand in future years. We recognize that research has shown that investment in high quality early child care reaps strong dividends later in life.

About two-thirds of the jobs in Durham County require some post high school education. To take these jobs, our young people need a solid education. Unfortunately, too many of our children drop out of high school or graduate without the skills to succeed.

There are approximately 36,000 children 0-8 in Durham. Seventy-one percent are minority, mainly black and Hispanic. Twenty-six percent live in a household where income is at or below the poverty level and nearly half live in a household with income at or below 185 percent of poverty. Only 38 percent of children enter kindergarten ready to learn and the gaps between children of different racial and ethnic groups are very large both in kindergarten and in later grades. At the end of third grade, fewer than half of our children in Durham are on grade level for reading and math.

According to the State of Durham County’s Young Children 2017 Report, there are a number of factors that contribute to the lower proficiency rates. One contributing factor is the relatively high percentage of English Language Learners (ELLs) at 20 percent of the third grade population. Difficulties can persist through high school and contribute to dropping out of school. However, evidence suggests the ELL’s benefit significantly from early childhood programs that prepare them for kindergarten.

We are currently developing a Grown In Durham collective impact approach to respond to the five major recommendations in the State of Durham Young Children’s report and task forces are formed or forming.The five areas of focus are:

Social and Emotional Health: Provide trauma informed services in a systemic way to build resiliency in children and families including education and support for social and emotional development.

Improved Birth Outcomes: Expand education and outreach efforts about preconception and prenatal health and available servicesto ensure that Durham County infants enter the world healthy.

Increased Early Learning Opportunities: Improve the availability, affordability and quality of early child care and education along with support services to improve all children’s preparedness for kindergarten.

Expansion of Education and Support Services:Improve and expand educational and support services in grades kindergarten through third so Durham’s children meet or exceed the state average for reading and math proficiency.

Improved Data Collection: Improve data collection across agencies and age groups so we can identify the areas of greatest need and track progress.

Durham is relatively resource rich, but sometimes programs are not effectively connected. Access to services can be improved by collaborating and making family-friendly connections among services along with expanding and improving services, particularly where there are gaps.

This is an opportunity for parents, caregivers, and other interested citizens to weigh in and offer guidance as we develop plans to improve early childhood services in Durham County.Please join us!

Ellen Reckhow is a member of the Durham County Board of Commissioners.