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Our Montgomery County babies deserve better

By Hope Vuto

While everyone has felt the fallout from COVID-19, babies and toddlers aren’t getting much attention in debates about whom to help. Make no mistake — they’ve been impacted by the pandemic. When parents lose their jobs, when families go without food, when moms and dads are stressed, their young children suffer, too. Sadly, young children’s early learning and development are too often afterthoughts for policy makers. But now with every sector asking for help to get to the other side of this health crisis, these needs are even more likely to get short shrift. We can’t let that happen.


In Montgomery County, nearly half of children are born into families experiencing poverty.


On average over the last 5 years, babies born to black mothers in Montgomery County were about three times as likely to die during their first year of life than babies born to white women.


In order to create a community where every child has an opportunity to reach his or her full potential, the Montgomery County Birth to 3 Collaborative works to find and replicate high-quality programs for young children. Learn to Earn Dayton convenes more than 30 organizations from across our community and is helping to eliminate health and early learning disparities for young children starting at birth.


The J.B. Pritzker Foundation recently recognized Montgomery County’s work with a highly-competitive Community Innovation Grant award. Over the next three years, we can invest nearly $400,000 to expand services for infants and toddlers and support local organizations serving pregnant women.


Specifically, the funds will go toward improving access to high quality child care, home visiting, care coordination and parenting supports. In addition, we’ll work together to re-imagine how we reach more families experiencing poverty and historically marginalized populations.


Among the reasons we were selected as a Pritzker Community Innovation Partner is the leadership shown by our local government officials. Evaluators were impressed by the depth of commitment to advancing young children’s well-being by Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, Montgomery County Commissioners Carolyn Rice, Debbie Lieberman and Judy Dodge, and other community partners.


These leaders understand that when new moms are supported by trained professionals during their pregnancy, and after, they become new parents, and when children get high quality early learning opportunities and receive early intervention for developmental delays, they will be healthier.


Importantly, they will then go on to be more successful in school.


The new funds coming to our community will help better coordinate these services. The Birth to 3 Collaborative is adamant about making it easy for families to access support when they need help and in the way they want it.


We’re also looking for new ways of doing business so that providers can stretch their dollars even further.


Consider child care. Even before COVID -19, our community had a severe shortage of child care for infants and toddlers. Waiting lists are even longer now because of the pandemic. While finding affordable, quality child care is hard for all families, families in poverty struggle the most.


With this challenge in mind, our Collaborative is looking to find a new way of paying for child care. We’re investigating outcomes-based financing, an innovative funding strategy= that provides child care programs upfront resources to serve more babies and toddlers in exchange for achieving strong and measurable outcomes.


This approach can ensure that limited resources go further.


We also are pursuing shared-service arrangements to free up money at center-based and family child care programs so they can offer better salary and benefits to their woefully underpaid staff. We won’t have high-quality child care if we don’t pay these essential workers a living wage and recognize the true value of their important work.


Expanding child care is just one way to support families. The Collaborative has more big and bold plans, and we’re eager to have others join us. For more information about joining in this work, contact Hope.Vuto@ LearnToEarnDayton.org.


By investing in the next generation, we are building a foundation for community and economic development. Capable children are the foundation of a prosperous society. That investment has to start before birth, when children’s brains develop fastest and connections that will last a lifetime are being made.


Hope Vuto is Learn to Earn Dayton’s Birth to 5 Program Manager.