Missouri plans to consolidate several early childhood programs across state government into one office. Gov. Mike Parson has signed an executive order today creating the Office of Childhood. Child care, home visiting, early learning, early intervention programs would involved in the move.
Currently, the Missouri Departments of Elementary and Secondary Education, Health and Senior Services, and Social Services each provide a variety services for children and families. A press release today from Parson’s office says the transition would streamline early childhood work across state government and ensure all Missouri children and families have access to more consistent, quality programs and services.
During a press conference today, Parson says the effort would provide a comprehensive approach to early childhood care and education.
“If we truly do the same old thing we’ve been doing for decades and decades with our children, nothing is going to change. The same problems we have today, you’re going to have it another decade from now,” says Parson. “We truly have to make a difference in the quality of life we give our kids. We’ve got to find ways to get them in a classroom. You’ve got to find ways to get them educated and they have the ability to go out and get a job. That should be a priority. That affects the crime rate. That’s affects the health system, and it affects the future of our state. Those things are important, and we get it right. We need to cut the bureaucracy out and get the main resources we have to the children of our state.”
The office will be housed within the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and consist of about 145 employees. Efforts to boost early learning and early literacy opportunities have been an ongoing focus by DESE and the Missouri Board of Education.
K-12 Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven says the office will continue to focus on the safety, health, and education of the whole child.
“We want children to be successful learners and to do that, we know they must first feel safe and be healthy. Research tells us that children who lack these basic needs come to school with cognitive and social emotional deficits that our educational system cannot remediate on its own,” says Dr. Vandeven. “The early years of a child’s life are truly the foundation for lifelong learning. Research shows that nearly 90% of brain development occurs by age 5 and that while babies are born with the same brain cells as adults, it’s the connections that brains make in those early years that lead to success later in life. We also know that children enrolled in high quality early learning programs achieve greater success in school and have improved health and lower crime rates as adults. I often talk about that strong finish that we hope to see from our students where they graduate from high school fully prepared for post-secondary or training, or the workforce, or the military. To achieve that strong finish, we must provide children with a strong start.”
Jennifer Tidball, acting director of the Department of Social Services, says the Office of Childhood would provide a great opportunity for child care subsidy eligible families and child care providers accepting subsidies to gain extra instructional support and access to care.
“As the child welfare agency, we want every Missouri child to have an opportunity for a safe, nurturing place to learn. I am confident that the Office of Childhood puts Missouri on this pathway,” says Tidball. “The Department of Social Services will continue to determine eligibility for child care subsidy after the transition.”
According to the press release, no state employee positions would be eliminated as a result of the consolidation. Current funding would remain unchanged for the programs involved as well as private child care providers and public schools.
Unless the Missouri Legislature rejects the plan within 60 days, the office will open its doors on August 28.
For more information about the office, click here.
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