For the month of June, Forward Wayne County is focused on Early Childhood Success. We asked Ashley R. Stephen, Executive Director for CAECI Head Start and Early Head Start, to speak about the programs he oversees.

Twelve years ago, I was offered employment with the Early Head Start program that would be operating in Wayne County. Knowledgeable about the history of Head Start – a program implemented as part of President Johnson’s War on Poverty – and interested in a career in the field of education, I accepted the position even though I had limited experience with infants and toddlers.

Within weeks of beginning in the Early Head Start program, I realized that helping children and families achieve success was going to require a concerted team effort. With coworkers and First Steps therapists, we discussed changes to routines and lesson plans to help address specific children’s needs. For mental health providers, we discussed techniques to reduce challenging behaviors. With community partners, we discussed tools to help families achieve their goals as they sought to improve their lives. We had our team supporting children and families, but there always seemed to be something missing.

I continued to learn about the early childhood field through conferences, webinars, and chats with fellow practitioners. I began to realize the extent to which most early childhood settings lack ongoing support from the community at large. Unlike public schools with their inherent community connection, child cares are often viewed as glorified babysitters that are useful to specific families for the time before children reach school-age, but such characterizations miss the point, ignoring the important work that early childhood educators do in helping young minds develop a love for learning and preparing children for kindergarten and beyond.

Impacts from COVID-19 in Early Childhood Education

Impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic have made the tasks of early childhood educators even more difficult. While low pay has been a consistent challenge, inflation has made staff retention in child care even more challenging. Wages at other jobs have risen faster than child care operators can increase the wages that they offer. (For Head Start and Early Head Start, our federal funding – our primary source of income – increased a mere 2.28% for 2022 while inflation has reached 8.5%.) Additionally, the mental health crises caused by stay-at-home orders, limited face-to-face interactions, and the constant uncertainty of the pandemic have led to a significant increase in the percentage of children who demonstrate challenging behaviors.

Despite the challenges, early childhood educators continue to perform their important work, day in and day out, as part of a team with therapists, mental health providers, and community partners. However, like any team after a grueling couple of seasons, our early childhood providers need the support of their community.

Supporting Early Childhood Educators

Are you asking how you and the rest of the community can help support our early childhood educators? Here are some ideas:

  • Can you read a book or catch a ball? Volunteer.
  • Have a few dollars to spare? Donate.
  • Been a parent? Connect with the parents of today’s young children.

Whether it is a licensed child care center, a registered ministry, or a child care home, child care providers and the children and families that they serve need the support of the community. It takes a village to raise a child, so how can you help build a better future for our community by supporting early childhood educators today?

Ashley R. Stephen

Executive Director

CAECI Head Start and Early Head Start

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