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Better Beginnings: A Decade of Investing in our Youngest Citizens

01/06/2021

In the first five years of life, about 90 percent of a person’s brain will develop. That means the early learning children get is critical to their future success and will set the stage for how well children learn, how they think of themselves, and how they interact with the world.

That’s why a decade ago, Arkansas pushed to elevate the quality of child care across the state through Better Beginnings, a quality rating and improvement system for child care and early childhood programs. The goal was to give parents a tool to find high-quality care and set higher expectations for child care centers and homes.

Tonya Williams, who serves as the Director of the Department of Human Services Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Education, has worked in early education in Arkansas for more than 25 years and says you can see the difference the state’s investment in quality is making.

Children in the high-quality programs aren’t at a baby-sitter. They are learning, following a curriculum based in science and research, and developing critical skills that will become the foundation for life-long learning.

Williams said high-quality programs also has a positive economic impact.

“Nobel prize-winning economist James Heckman and others have done a great deal of research to show a significant return on investment in high-quality early childhood programs,” she said.

Since Better Beginnings was created, the number of quality child care and early childhood programs in Arkansas has doubled – from 670 to 1,346. Out of 1,989 licensed programs, 67 percent participate in Better Beginnings, and 690 of those have the highest quality 3-star rating.  

Particularly important, Williams said, is that all children in Arkansas who participate in the federal child care assistance program for low-income and working families – about 19,000 in 2019 — are now in a Better Beginnings program compared to only about two percent 10 years ago.

There also are multiple tools, like a child care checklist, to help parents choose child care as well as a family resource library that holds over 40 hands-on math, science, and literacy activity resources for families – each of which is available in both English and Spanish.

Williams said DHS is now working to expand Better Beginnings by expanding to include additional quality levels beyond the 3-star rating. A pilot program for these new levels, comprised of about 15 programs, will begin in early 2021. The results from this pilot will be reviewed, and any needed enhancements will be made before rolling out the new quality levels statewide.

“We are very proud of the progress we’ve made in helping Arkansas children and families access quality child care in their communities,” she said. “But I’m even more excited about the future of the program and our efforts to create some of the best early childhood programs in the country to help children develop optimally.”

To learn more about the child care assistance program, click here.

To learn more about Better Beginnings or get access to family resources, click here.

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