Tackling Early Childhood Challenges Together

By Anne Brandt, Executive Director, Lincoln Littles

A year ago, we received an email from a teacher at Lincoln Public Schools. She was referred to Lincoln Littles by a colleague trying to help her stay employed. You see, she was a single mother with three children in childcare. She loved her job and wanted to stay but was considering resigning to qualify for state subsidy. She simply couldn’t afford the cost of childcare.

We receive these types of calls and emails from parents weekly.

Did you know we have roughly 20,000 children under six in Lincoln? Many live in single parent households, many attend childcare of some sort, and the average cost of care is between $10,000-$13,000 a year per child. Yet, the average median income of a family with children under 18 is $80,000 a year.

Early childhood access for our youngest residents should be on all our minds because a thriving community begins with quality early care and education. Research tells us children who receive quality early care are more prepared academically, more likely to graduate high school, attend college, and are more successful in the workforce. The ripple effect across the community is undeniable.

At Lincoln Littles, we believe all children should have access to affordable, high-quality early care and education.

Our work is immediate and systemic in scope and focuses on solutions to four key challenges. Our goal is to remove barriers and provide opportunity for all children birth to five access affordable quality early care and education.

So, let’s go back to my example of the average cost of care going with the lower end of $10,000 per year, per child. Let’s say you have two children under six – that’s $20,000 a year which is 25% of a typical family’s income. Far more than the 7% to be considered “affordable” as recommended by the Department of Health and Human Services.

That’s where Lincoln Littles comes in. Thanks to generous donors, we help families who don’t qualify for state subsidy, but still cannot afford quality childcare. We also assist those with emergencies and fund quality improvements for childcare providers using public and private dollars.

We have an early childhood workforce crisis in our community and in our country, which has a ripple effect on other industries. We’ve developed countless partnerships to address these issues in a variety of ways.

Our first childcare workforce survey identified key challenges leading to a new position within our organization dedicated to the support and sustainability of our early childhood workforce. In March of last year, Lameakia Collier joined Lincoln Littles as our Workforce Development Program Administrator.

Preliminary results from our second workforce survey indicate that early childhood providers and teachers are continuing to see challenges. There are growing numbers of children on waitlists –in fact, our survey indicated more than 900 children are on waitlists and that is just from the programs who responded.

Most providers indicated challenges with staff shortages. These shortages further exaggerate challenges by limiting the number of children that can attend a program, increasing exhaustion among staff, and increasing behavioral challenges in young children.

Lincoln Littles also partners with local businesses to help them understand the childcare needs of their employees. Implementing low cost-no cost solutions, near-site childcare partnerships, on-site centers, and resource support. Employers win by keeping key employees, improving productivity, reducing missed hours, and boosting morale. Employees benefit from reduced stress, increased job satisfaction, and peace of mind.

We are proud to be included in the Lincoln’s Chamber of Commerce new strategic plan, leveraging one of their key initiatives to expand local early care capacity.

We continue to play a role in systems change by influencing policy to better meet the needs of children and families, working with all sectors of our city to tackle these complex issues.

Remember the teacher who was going to have to quit her job to receive state subsidy? We were able to help her reapply and because of a policy change increasing the subsidy threshold, she qualified. Today, she remains employed as a teacher, impacting young lives while supporting her own family’s childcare needs.

These types of public-private partnerships are key to realize our goal of all children in Lincoln having access to affordable early care and education. Data has identified it would take $17 million to make this happen. It’s a heavy lift and philanthropy can’t do it alone.

Luckily, we live in Lincoln. We are innovative, we care, and we have people – like you – who want to work together to make a difference. You can make that difference today by supporting our community-wide work at www.LincolnLittles.org.