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Stakeholders of Vermont Insights, which include policymakers, practitioners, communities, the public, and many other groups, have identified important questions in the area of early childhood that drive much of the data presented in Vermont Insights. Below are 10 of these essential questions. Click on each question to learn more about the importance of the question for Vermont and beyond as well as sub-questions (if available) relating to the topic(s).

Important Note:  A goal of Vermont Insights is to make data available for the early childhood community so it can answer these essential questions. The objective of linking these questions to the data within Vermont Insights is currently in progress. The process used to determine what data are needed to answer the essential questions is referred to as "unpacking the question". It includes a review of both available and unavailable data and cataloging that information in Vermont Insights. The new Prenatal to Grade 12 Data Governance program in Vermont is an important data infrastructure that supports and facilitates moving this work forward, particularly for the questions that require cross agency longitudinal data sharing.

1. Are our young children achieving optimal health and development?

Importance: Understanding child development and the application of its principles set the care of children apart from that of adults. Infants must grow to be children, then adolescents, and then adults. Health promotion to ensure physical, cognitive, and social emotional health as well as to protect the child from infectious disease and injuries (intentional and unintentional) supports the healthy development of the child. (Bright Futures Guidelines for Health Supervision of Infants, Children and Adolescents.)

Sub-Questions


1A. Are all children born full-term and weigh greater than 5.5 pounds?

Importance: Prematurity and low birth weight can disrupt children's development. Birth weight is the weight of the newborn measured immediately after birth. Birth weight of less than 5.5 lbs, or 2500 grams, is considered low birth weight. A low birth weight infant can be born too small, too early, or both. This can happen for many different reasons which may or may not be related. A developing baby goes through important growth during the final weeks and months of pregnancy. Preventing preterm birth remains a challenge because the causes of preterm births are numerous, complex, and poorly understood. However, pregnant women can take important steps to help reduce their risk of preterm birth, low birth weight and improve their general health. This steps suggest additional data such as the following will be helpful to inform the essential question "Are young children achieving optimal health and development: smoking, alcohol and illicit drug use, preconception health care, early and continuous prenatal care, use of folic acid (400 micrograms) before and throughout pregnancy. (Centers for Disease Control.)

1B. Are all 3-year olds health and development on track?

Importance: The first three years of life are a period of incredible growth in all areas of a baby's development. During these years, developmental surveillance and screening and follow-up for children identified with developmental concerns is essential. By connecting families with concerns for their children's development and behavior to appropriate, community based programs and services families are supported as informed and engaged stewards of their children's early development.

1C. Are our young children ready for school in all domains?

Importance: Since 2000, Vermont has gathered information on the readiness of children entering kindergarten by surveying kindergarten teachers about the "readiness" of their students within the first six to ten weeks of school. This effort to measure school readiness is a collaborative project of the Vermont Agency of Education, the Department of Children and Families, and the Department of Health. There are many interpretations of what constitutes "readiness". Vermont's concept of children's readiness is multidimensional; it includes social and emotional development, communication, physical health, as well as cognitive development, knowledge, and approaches to learning (e.g., enthusiasm for learning, persistence, curiosity). Vermont's concept also reflects the belief that "school readiness" is interactional: children need to be ready for schools, and schools need to be ready to accommodate the diverse needs of children.

1D. Are all children growing in proficiency in reading at the end of 3rd grade?

Importance: Third grade reading proficiency is perhaps the most critical benchmark for children as they progress through the education system. Early literacy, language development and reading skills are the foundation of all future learning and can be nurtured in multiple ways in homes, schools and communities, starting at birth. Key factors considered best to attain reading at grade level and thus inform additional data to better understand the sub-question "Are all children growing in proficiency in reading at the end of 3rd grade?" are school readiness, regular attendance at school, summer learning opportunities, healthy, unstressed families and high-quality teaching. (Early Warning Confirmed: A Research Update on Third Grade Reading, Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2013.)

1E. Are all students graduating from high school on time?

Importance: Graduation from high school is a major milestone on the path to successful adulthood. While the graduation rates for Vermont schools are good in comparison to other states Vermont has made a commitment to improving its graduation rate to 100% by 2020. The Agency of Education websites states "Striving to meet this lofty goal will require that Vermont schools employ innovative, transformative practices designed to help every student enter on a pathway to successful completion."

1F. Are high school graduates prepared to succeed in college and/or careers?

Importance: College and career readiness is rapidly supplanting high school graduation as a key priority of the K-12 education system. As workforce demands change, it has become increasingly apparent that students will benefit greatly from at least some postsecondary education or training as they prepare to participate in today's global economy (American Institutes for Research, Promoting College and Career Readiness: A Pocket Guide for State and District Leaders, 2013.)

2. Are our children ages birth to six getting the nutritious food and opportunities for physical activity to be healthy during their school years?

Importance: Many factors affect a family's ability to care for their children. Families who can meet their own basic needs for food, clothing, housing, and transportation - and who know how to access essential services such as early care and education, health care, and mental health services to address family-specific needs - are better able to ensure the safety and well-being of their children. When parents do not have steady financial resources, lack health insurance, or suffer a crisis such as a natural disaster or the incarceration of a parent, domestic violence, mental illness or substance abuse, their ability to care for their children may be at risk. (Strengthening Families, Center for the Study of Social Policy.)

Sub-Questions


No sub-questions have been developed.

3. Are our children ages birth to six spending their days in quality environments (home, care and education programs, and community)?

Importance: Early experiences in childhood lay the foundation for later success. The relationships, environments, and supports that children experience have a profound impact on their development because critical neurological and biological systems grow most rapidly in these earliest years. Throughout early childhood, from birth through age eight, children need early, consistent, high-quality supports to promote and sustain their developmental gains. (Alliance for Early Success and Child Trends, The Research Base for a Birth through Age Eight State Policy Framework, 2013.)

Sub-Questions


3A. Are children of low-income receiving Child Care Financial Assistance (subsidy) enrolled and attending regulated care and education programs of high quality?

Importance: Child care subsidies serve two important purposes; reduce costs for families of low-income and facilitate parental employment thus strengthening families' economic security as well as support families of low-income to purchase high-quality care that positively impacts their child's learning and development (CLASP, Child Care Assistance: A Vital Support for Working Families, June 2015).

3B. What approaches or curriculum models are implemented by adults (parents, families, caregivers and teachers) in the environments where young children spend their days?

Importance: Every day, young children should have experiences at home, in schools, and in their communities that make a difference to their growing bodies and minds. These high quality early childhood experiences are the foundation for school success and lifelong learning. Vermont's Early Learning Standards (VELS) provides a roadmap to help inform families about the development and capabilities of children from birth through grade 3 and guide educators in the development and selection of program-wide curriculum and educational strategies for children from birth through grade 3 (Vermont's Early Learning Standards - VELS, 2015).

4. Is the quality of early childhood programs improving?

Importance: Improving the quality of early childhood programs in an effort to support young children's development is a priority for parents, practitioners and policymakers at the local and state level in Vermont as well as across the country. Although we all know that the early years are critical to later success in school and in life, there is no magic year that alone can ensure this success. Instead, young children need access to health care, strong families, and positive early learning experiences from birth through Grade 3 and beyond. One important factor to achieving positive child outcomes is the quality of all early childhood programs. Such programs include regulated care and education programs, home visiting programs, and early intervention and family supports services. Regulated care and education programs in Vermont include registered family homes, licensed homes and centers, publicly funded Pre-K (Act 166) and Early Head Start and Head Start programs. It is important to note that not all non-parental care is provided in regulated early care and education settings. And, parents often use more than one type of care (regulated and non-regulated.) Data on non-regulated care is very limited.

Sub-Questions


4A. Is the quality of regulated care and education programs improving?

Importance: One important factor to achieving positive child outcomes is the quality of all early childhood programs and in particular regulated care and education programs. This includes registered family homes, licensed homes and centers, publicly funded Pre-K (Act 166) and Early Head Start and Head Start programs. Forty years of research reveal that care and education programs that positively impact young children are those with highly skilled teachers, age-appropriate activities, stimulating materials and a safe environment. (Zaslow, M., Martinez-Beck, I., Tout, K and Halle, T., 2011 Quality Measurement in Early Childhood Settings.)

5. Do our young children and their families have the resources to meet their basic needs?

Importance: Many factors affect a family's ability to care for their children. Families who can meet their own basic needs for food, clothing, housing, and transportation - and who know how to access essential services such as early care and education, health care, and mental health services to address family-specific needs - are better able to ensure the safety and well-being of their children. When parents do not have steady financial resources, lack health insurance, or suffer a crisis such as a natural disaster or the incarceration of a parent, domestic violence, mental illness or substance abuse, their ability to care for their children may be at risk. (Strengthening Families, Center for the Study of Social Policy.)

Sub-Questions


No sub-questions have been developed.

6. How skilled and stable is our early childhood workforce?

Importance: The presence of a skilled and stable workforce in early childhood plays a significant role in the quality and continuity of programs and services and consequently the impact they have on young children and their families. The early childhood workforce includes everyone who works with young children and their families or who is responsible for improving their outcomes. Practitioners who work with infants, toddler, preschoolers and the children in the early grades in school and their families (including during the prenatal period) span a variety of program and service settings, professional disciplines, and roles. They work in many settings across sectors including home and center based early care and education programs, Early Head Start and Head Start, early intervention and special education, home visiting programs, health clinics and the courts. They serve as educators, social workers, therapists, nurses, pediatricians, and family support workers. Some individuals work directly with children and their families, and others work on behalf of children and families in training, consultation, administrative, and oversight roles. Most of the data available is limited to the early care and education workforce.

Sub-Questions


6A. What is the composition of the workforce?

Importance: A good starting point to answering the question "How skilled and stable is our early childhood workforce?" is offering a description of the characteristics of the early childhood's workforce. This includes the number of individuals (market/paid work and non-market/non-paid work), demographics such as gender, age, race/ethnicity, language capacity), distribution of the workers, the type of sector (care, health, education, early intervention, family support) and settings, occupational roles and where they work. As the racial, ethnic, and linguistic diversity of our nation's youngest children increases, the cultural competence of the infant-toddler workforce becomes ever more important.

6B. What are the qualifications of the workforce?

Importance: To ensure healthy children, strong families, and positive early learning experiences, professionals in a wide variety of roles and settings must respond to the needs of infants and toddlers in partnership with families and within the context of each child's culture, ethnicity, and primary language. This work requires a level of specialized knowledge and skill that is unique to the developmental needs of these early foundational years, as well as collaboration among practitioners. (Adapted from Zero to Three, Building a Strong Infant-Toddler Workforce, 2012.) This specialized knowledge and skill extends into the preschool and the early grades in school. In the education sector this is best articulated as high-quality educational experiences for all children depend on effective teachers who are skilled at nurturing children's curiosity and fostering learning. (Marcy Whitebrook, Building a Skilled Teacher Workforce, Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, 2014.)

6C. What is the experience and stability of the workforce?

Importance: Factors with the greatest influence on outcomes for children include the more proximal teacher and caregiver characteristics, such as their attitudes, engagement, and skills, as well as the stability of the staff. (Richard Brandon in The early childhood care and education workforce: Challenges and opportunities: A workshop report, Institute of Medicine and National research Council, 2012.)

6D. What are the characteristics and conditions of workplaces?

Importance: Positive workplace conditions support staff retention and staff's ability to translate new knowledge and skills into effective practice.

6E. What are the compensation and benefits characteristics of the workforce?

Importance: Pairing an increase in competency with an increase in compensation can help programs retain skilled staff.

6F. What are the attitudes, attributes and activities of the workforce?

Importance: Factors with the greatest influence on outcomes for children include the more proximal teacher and caregiver characteristics, such as their attitudes, engagement, and skills, as well as the stability of the staff. (Richard Brandon in The early childhood care and education workforce: Challenges and opportunities: A workshop report, Institute of Medicine and National research Council, 2012.)

6G. What is the relationship between the workforce skill and stability, quality and children's development?

Importance: This research question explores the trends (well-educated staff and high turnover rates) that compromise stability and quality and put healthy child and family development at risk.

6H. How is the workforce engaged in professional development activities?

Importance: Professional development provides the pathway for building and maintaining a well-qualified workforce. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) defines professional development as a continuum of learning and support activities designed to prepare individuals for work with and on behalf of young children and their families, as well as ongoing experiences to enhance this work, that lead to improvements in the knowledge, skills, practices, and dispositions of EC professionals. In Vermont, the Northern Lights Career Development Center works with many partners to unify and enhance the professional development system for early childhood and afterschool professionals in Vermont. It includes courses, trainings and individualized support through M.A.T.C.H.: mentoring, advising, teaching, coaching, consulting, and helping that are recognized through certificates, credentials, college credit and degrees.

7. Do our young children and their families facing adversity have early, timely and highly skilled interventions?

Importance: Significant progress in lifelong health promotion and disease prevention could be achieved by reducing the burden of significant adversity on young children - and this progress could be accelerated through science-based enhancements in a wide range of policy domains, including child care and early education, child welfare, public assistance and employment programs for low-income parents, housing policies, and community development initiatives, to name just a few. (The Foundations of Lifelong Health Are Built in Early Childhood. Center of the Developing Child, Harvard University.)

Sub-Questions


7A. Are children protected from child abuse and neglect?

Importance: The impact of child abuse and neglect can be profound. Research shows that it is associated with adverse physical and mental health outcomes for children, and those negative effects can last a lifetime. Just as positive experiences can assist with healthy brain development, children's experiences with forms of toxic stress such as child abuse and neglect, domestic violence or disasters, can negatively affect brain development. (Child Welfare Information Gateway).

7B. Do children have permanency and stability in their living environments?

Importance: For children to thrive they need to feel consistently safe, loved and nurtured. Children who experience instability or constant change can negatively impact negative their well-being, attachment, self esteem, identity and compromise their access to education, health and human services. (The Future of Children, 2004).

8. What is the relationship between receipt of prevention and early intervention services and children's success in life during their school years?

Importance: Positive early experiences are essential prerequisites for later success in school, the workplace, and the community. Services to young children who have or are at risk for developmental delays have been shown to positively impact outcomes across developmental domains, including health, language and communication, cognitive development, and social/emotional development. Families benefit from early intervention by being able to better meet their children's special needs from an early age and throughout their lives. Benefits to society include reducing economic burden through a decreased need for special education. (National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center, The Importance of Early Intervention for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities and their Families, July 2011.)

Sub-Questions


No sub-questions have been developed.

9. What is the relationship between attendance in various early care and education programs and children's success in life during their school years?

Importance: While we have known for a long time that regular attendance in school is important for children's success. We are now learning how important regular attendance is even in the earliest years. Research suggests that chronic absenteeism in preschool can predict chronic absenteeism in the later grades and a consequent risk for academic underachievement. (U.S. Office of Child Care, 2014.) In addition, we know that quality is an important element of programs that have had strong impacts. High-quality programs do not just meet the basic needs of children, but also provide opportunities for meaningful learning activities and language development, and work to foster close, caring relationships between children and their teachers/caregivers. (Child Trends Databank, Early Childhood Program Enrollment, 2014.)

Sub-Questions


No sub-questions have been developed.

10. Are we investing our early childhood dollars wisely?

Importance: Hard empirical evidence shows that high quality early childhood systems foster the development of critical cognitive and socio-emotional abilities, especially for disadvantaged children whose lack of family resources and access to early learning opportunities results in large achievement gaps that open before kindergarten starts. Voluntary early intervention with quality early learning attacks inequality at its source and boosts economic productivity. (James Heckman, Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago, Remarks at the White House Conference on December 16, 2011, Race to the Top - Early Learning Challenge Awards Announcement.)

Sub-Questions


No sub-questions have been developed.

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