To prepare our future workforce for success, we have to start in early childhood. Family Forward NC’s focus on workplace policies that impact young children and their families is rooted in research on brain development and future success. During children’s earliest years, their experiences are built into their bodies—shaping the brain’s architecture and creating the foundation for future learning and health. In other words, everything a child experiences from birth impacts that child’s ability to fulfill his or her potential.Footnote # 1
The early years are so defining that by the time a child turns eight, his or her third-grade reading outcomes can predict future academic achievement and career success. Decades of research have established what children need to build strong brains—health and development on track from birth, supportive and supported families and communities, and high-quality birth-through-age eight learning environments with regular attendance.
“American business depends on a strong workforce, now and in the future, to compete and succeed globally. But America is facing an unprecedented workforce crisis: a large and growing shortage of skilled workers. One root of this problem is that we’ve underestimated the importance of the earliest years of life.”
— US Chamber of Commerce Foundation
The COVID-19 crisis has underscored the need for family-friendly policies that support children now and in the future.
Access to stable, high-quality early care and education is crucial to ensure children develop on track and are prepared for school and life success. Yet one in three working families is struggling to find child care, and even when care is available, it’s often unaffordable.
- Prior to the pandemic, 99 of 100 NC counties were infant and toddler child care deserts, meaning there were four infants and toddlers for every one space available in a high-quality facility.Footnote # 2
- More than 70 percent of NC parents and caregivers have had difficulty finding a satisfactory child care arrangement during the pandemic.Footnote # 3
- Child care gaps affect both rural and metropolitan communities. The Bipartisan Policy Center found that the child care gaps in rural areas exceeded supply by 35 percent in rural communities and 29 percent in metropolitan areas.Footnote # 4
On top of that, North Carolina and the country are facing a growing skills gap. By 2030 an estimated 67% of jobs in NC will require some post-secondary education. Currently, only 49% of North Carolinians meet this requirement.
“The foundation for school, career and life success is largely determined through the development of cognitive and character skills beginning in children’s earliest years.”
—Nobel Laureate Economist, Professor James J. Heckman