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Childhood planning task force gives children an early start

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Many argue it is never too early to start the process of preparing young residents of the Mountain State for success in life.

Through the expansion and creation of both existing and potential child-oriented services, the probability of children excelling throughout life is greatly increased, they argue.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin created the WV Early Childhood Planning Task Force in May 2013 by executive order. Tomblin charged the task force with producing a developmental plan for early childhood in West Virginia; defining the components, priorities and costs of an early childhood system; and creating strategies for its implementation and governance. The task force also outlined financial solutions for the implementation costs.

Components of the Plan

According to Julie Pratt, project director for WV Early Childhood Planning Task Force, the goal is to develop a statewide plan that allows children the best opportunities to hit the ground running developmentally.

“We’re looking at what we can do to improve early childhood development,” she said.

The first eight or nine months of the task force’s work consisted of talking to people, hosting community discussion and forums as well as receiving input and advice from local community members and parents, Pratt said.

When it comes to what programs work, Pratt said HeadStart, quality and affordable childcare, universal Pre-K programs, WV Birth to Three and in-home visitations all are programs that advance the task force’s objective of producing a quality developmental plan for early childhood.

While the WV Birth to Three is statewide, Pratt said she would like to expand its eligibility.

“Everyone said it’s helpful,” she said.

Pratt also would like to expand in-home visitation programs. They are both cost effective and improve outcomes for young children, she said.

Currently, half of the state’s 55 counties have in-home visitation programs.

“I would like to see the program go statewide,” Pratt said.

In addition to seeing in-home visitation programs expand statewide and include prenatal care, Pratt would also like to make improvements in childcare by making it more affordable, by creating a quality learning environment and ensuring working parents receive reliable care for their children.

Improving the Community

Justin Seibert, task force member and president of Direct Online Marketing of Wheeling, said not only will the plan “prepare future young residents for success in life,” but also provide a “pay-off for our state.”

Seibert said by fostering brain development early on, the potential for future revenue producers and the cost of savings is greatly increased and has a high probability of ensuring fewer developmental problems in school.

From an employment perspective, retention and recruitment are areas Seibert said would benefit from focusing on early childhood development. Pratt also agreed on the potential investment opportunities.

If you put in the effort for younger children, you get a bigger investment back, she said.

Seibert, one of two business leaders to be appointed to the task force, said providing a measurable result of quality advancement is an important aspect of the plan’s development.

“We want a measurable way to see how things play out,” he said. “Having a measurement system in place will be critical.”

Time-Limited Endeavor

Time for the task force is limited. While Seibert said it was originally scheduled to run through January of 2014, that time frame has been extended.

Now, Pratt said work is in the wrap-up phase, with the final product scheduled to be delivered to Tomblin in November.

The comprehensive plan includes recommendations guided by tweaking, expanding and improving the group’s ideas and feedback.

“The recommendations fit together,” Pratt said. “There’s not a lot of cracks.”

Partnering with the task force in the project is the Early Childhood Advisory Council. The Advisory Council was created in July 2010 through an executive order by then-Gov. Joe Manchin. The council’s mission is to “create a high quality, coordinated system of services that support early childhood development.”

Gretchen Frankenberry, executive manager for the advisory council, said it serves mainly as research experts, informing task force members in issues regarding early childhood development, answering questions and acting in a resource capacity.

Because the Childhood Planning Task Force has an end date and the advisory council is long term, Frankenberry said it will be in charge of executing the plans and recommendations of the Childhood Planning Task Force.

To date, there are 16 recommendations. Once all is said and done, Seibert said it is up to the state to decide what, if anything, gets funded.

His hope is to see the developmental plan come to fruition.

“I’d love to see things get implemented,” he said.

According to Pratt, those in the Mountain State are ready to take on the challenge.

“People in West Virginia know how to do these things,” she said.