Community Focus Report

Early Childhood

Programs for School Success Work, But Resources Need to Reach More Families

A commitment to Springfield-Greene County's youngest children is beginning to pay off thanks to a collaborative community focus on supporting early childhood learning success, according to a new white paper released today on early childhood from the Community Focus Report.

This year, the Community Focus Report—the biennial report card of strengths and challenges in Springfield and Greene County—is releasing detailed white papers focused on the 11 key areas ahead of the printed report, which will be released on Oct. 21.

Long-term investments and funding streams to help sustain programs are keys to this commitment and reflect a Blue Ribbon this year. The Darr Family Foundation, the Community Foundation of the Ozarks and the Musgrave Foundation have committed more than $1 million over five years to early learning and professional development that benefit young children. For six years, scholarships through the Every Child Promise initiative helped 609 children attend one of 20 high-quality preschool programs. The outcomes have been extraordinary, with post-DECA kindergarten readiness assessments among recipients averaging 98.6%. The David Stoeffler Every Child Promise Endowment, established in 2019, ensures a funding stream in perpetuity.

Another significant step forward—and Blue Ribbon—is the commitment to children’s emotional and mental health by implementing brain-based, trauma-informed programming. More than 1,500 local educators have been trained in Conscious Discipline, which received high ratings in eight of 10 categories in a Harvard University analysis of the nation’s top 25 social-emotional learning programs. In another effort, the Council of Churches of the Ozarks' Early Childhood One Stop includes the program Conscious Parenting, which has taught more than 600 parents how to support at home what their kids are learning at school.

Yet many young children continue to suffer from issues like emotional trauma, economic disparity and lack of quality early-childhood programs to help them prepare for school success. In the last three Kindergarten Readiness studies, nearly half of children who did not attend a quality preschool were not ready for kindergarten. Families that struggle to pay rising costs of living often must choose substandard care for young children. And it’s harder to find good care. The number of local licensed childcare facilities dropped 32% from 2009 to 2019. Also, with changing regulations, fewer providers seek to qualify for accepting subsidy payments.

Child trauma including abuse and neglect—which increased 18% in the last year—continues to affect children's social and emotional well-beings, long-term health outcomes and future success. Strengthening services to prevent child abuse and neglect remains a persistent need and reflect a Red Flag.

The complete list of Blue Ribbons and Red Flags for Early Childhood can be found in the white paper.

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