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by Tom Vitaglione

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On February 27 the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) released the NC Early Childhood Action Plan (ECAP). The document “provides a framework for galvanizing public and private action to achieve a bold vision and measurably improve outcomes for our state’s young children by 2025.” We welcome this strategic initiative by NC DHHS to improve outcomes for young children, particularly because the Early Childhood Action Plan builds on other early childhood planning initiatives happening concurrently in North Carolina.

For example, NC Child is part of a statewide initiative called Pathways to Grade-Level Reading that takes a coordinated birth-through-age-eight view of academic success. Our friends at the NC Early Childhood Foundation have just released a toolbox for employers called Family Forward NC, that helps employers of all sizes attract and retain top talent by implementing family-friendly policies that focus on the health and development of young children. And we’re part of a coalition called Think Babies, to raise public awareness and build political will to improve policies and programs for infants and toddlers and their families

There are at least four reasons to applaud NC DHHS’ work on the Early Childhood Action Plan:

  • The ECAP does a good job of demonstrating the inter-connectedness of forces in a young child’s life. Reading the plan reminds one that a vast array of health, social, economic and educational factors must be addressed simultaneously to improve early childhood outcomes;
  • The ECAP emphasizes the reality that both poverty and structural racism must be addressed in order to assure that early childhood outcomes are improved and maintained;
  • The ECAP recognizes that a child’s oral health is a critical component of their overall health and ability to succeed in school and life; and
  • Prominent among the various planning efforts, the ECAP emphasizes the influence of environmental factors – from clean water and air to toxic exposures – in determining early childhood outcomes.

Much of what makes this plan so robust comes thanks to the thoughtful input that NCDHHS received from many of you during the public comment period. Kudos to the Department for taking public input so seriously, and for thoughtfully incorporating it into the ECAP.

We must note, however, that the Early Childhood Action Plan is just that – a plan. Now comes the enormous challenge to make its recommendations a reality. The plan rightly calls for all North Carolinians – both individually and corporately – to commit to making North Carolina a better place to be a young child and to raise a young child. It is critical, however, that DHHS provides the leadership for this campaign. While DHHS definitely cannot do so alone, the agency brings enormous human and fiscal resources to the table. These resources can be brought to bear on the impediments that must be overcome in order to protect and nurture our youngest citizens. We look forward to working with DHHS and others to make the ECAP’s vision for young children and their families a reality.

Tom Vitaglione is NC Child’s Senior Fellow.

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