Drum roll please… We are so excited to announce the publication of TWO big projects to help Vermont be a better place for our children and families. Over 300 stakeholders helped inform these documents; creating an equitable and inclusive system for each and every child takes all of us. Together, we are the engineers of a stronger, more equitable and integrated early childhood system.
The Vermont Early Childhood Action Plan (VECAP) is the state’s early childhood strategic plan for all things serving families prenatal through age eight. The updated VECAP articulates a strengthened vision for Vermont’s early childhood system:
Vermont aspires to realize the promise of each and every Vermont child by ensuring that the early childhood system is an integrated, continuous, comprehensive, high quality system of services that is equitable, accessible and will improve outcomes for children in the prenatal period to age eight and their families.
Vermont’s Early Childhood Action Plan (VECAP) has 4 goals (See Figure 1), each aligned with a level of change. Figure 1 shows the child at the heart of the plan aligned with Goal 1: All Children Have a Healthy Start. The child is nested within the family context and is aligned with Goal 2: Families and Communities Play a Leading Role in Children’s Well-being. The third level is the broader community, which has an array of services, supports and resources for children and families, and is aligned with Goal 2 and Goal 3: All Children and Families Have Access to High-Quality Opportunities That Meet Their Needs. Finally, at the outermost level is Vermont’s local and state policy and system, which represents the larger policies and decisions that impact all other layers aligned with Goal 4: The Early Childhood System will be Integrated, Well Resourced and Data-Informed.
The plan touches each of us – from the child through system-wide changes and includes indicators for each goal. Our goal is to ensure that every Vermonter is able to see themselves and their work represented within this strategic plan. Please explore the document and ask, where do I see myself in the plan?
The VECAP is informed by Vermont’s 2020 Early Childhood Needs Assessment, another significant tool for decision makers to use to strengthen the early childhood system. The Needs Assessment highlighted the conditions of the early care and education system for Vermont’s 35, 769 children birth through age 5. The needs assessment collected data to examine the strengths and opportunities for the EC system at this critical time, and to better understand important questions including:
- What do we know about the quality and availability of programs and support for Vermont’s young children and families?
- To what extent are the most vulnerable young Vermonters and their families able to access the services and support that they want and need?
- How are families and communities engaged in, informing, and leading Vermont’s EC systems?
- What strengths, gaps, and opportunities are there in EC systems, including the availability of data, financial and practical resources, its professional workforce, and systemwide coordination and integration?
The report highlights 8 themes including data gaps, chronic underfunding, and limited family engagement. As we try to tackle complex challenges, the Needs Assessment includes an extensive data gap table which clearly organizes some of the most commonly asked questions and limitations of Vermont’s data infrastructure. For those interested in system integration and understanding how our programs and policies impact children and families, this data table shows the gaps in our existing knowledge base and what information must be prioritized to inform policy and service provision. Finally, these critical remaining questions are, for the first time, centralized in one
place to inform the data development agenda with partners, and influence our capacity to make data informed decisions.
For example, we often hear people ask, “what is the true demand for services?” and “does our system have the capacity to meet the needs?” to better design and improve equitable access to services, supports and resources for mental health services, early childhood special education, pre-k, or childcare. Another question we often hear is, “how many children receive one or more early childhood services”? Unfortunately, one of the gaps is that as a state, we cannot yet produce an unduplicated count across early childhood programs (Head Start, Early Head Start, early intervention, early childhood special education, and, Universal Pre-Kindergarten.) These are just examples of critical questions we cannot answer just yet, but hope to in the near future.
Vermont’s current early childhood system is robust, including services, supports and resources to promote healthy children and resilient families. However, despite our efforts, not all children and families are able to access what they need to thrive and our system is underfunded. Our work to this point has been important… and we still have work left to do.
With the publishing of the 2020 Early Childhood System Needs Assessment and VECAP, we ask all Vermonters to use these tools and affirm this vision by creating positive change in the early childhood system. Together, WE will implement this strategic plan and hold each other accountable to the goals, objectives, strategies and outcomes identified because we believe in it, and commit to the vision outlined.
We look forward to working together with families, communities, partner organizations, and lawmakers to best support the children and families of our state.