Missouri’s governor announced the formation of the Office of Childhood as part of his State of the State address, and advocates around the state celebrated the move as a monumental step towards creating a comprehensive vision and program alignment of Missouri’s early childhood system.
The Governor’s Executive Order will consolidate leadership across departments who work on child care and early childhood governance, monitoring, and regulations, including the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) and the Department of Social Services (DSS). The newly-merged office will be housed at DESE and will provide leadership, coordination, and a strategic vision for all programs encompassing child care, preschool and pre-Kindergarten, home visiting, workforce support and professional development, and other early intervention services that support parents and children in the earliest years of childhood.
Stakeholders, led by the Governor’s Office, Kids Win Missouri, and the Children’s Trust Fund, have been meeting to discuss this consolidation for the last two years and have spent significant time vetting the systemic issues and the impact these issues have on child outcomes.
“Listening to our stakeholders during the past several years along with the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of ensuring our early care and education system functions seamlessly for parents and early childhood service providers alike. This new structure will allow Missouri to administer child care, home visiting, and First Steps in more efficient and innovative ways. With the award of the Preschool Development Grants, partnerships from national organizations to elevate the issue and Governor Parson’s commitment, we have more momentum than ever to create necessary changes to better serve our youngest children.”
Director of Policy and Advocacy, Kids Win Missouri
“Our state offers so many life-saving and life-changing services for children and families, but because of the siloed nature of the programs and the lack of alignment and data sharing across departments, we are not reaping the full benefits of those investments,” said Emily van Schenkhof, Director of the Missouri Children’s Trust Fund. “With a singular vision, more coordination, and shared goals, we can create impact like we’ve never seen for Missouri children and families.”
The state departments involved in the consolidation have been meeting since November to discuss what the move would mean, what would change, and how staff will rearrange under the new umbrella.
“We have seen the substantial financial and operational hit that our child care programs have taken this past year and an increasing number of programs in our state closing for good,” said Robin Phillips, CEO of Child Care Aware® of Missouri. “It’s time to think boldly in terms of how we address the immediate concerns for providers while re-envisioning a system that works better for everyone – including children, parents, and providers. Child Care Aware® of Missouri has worked closely with state departments over the past 20 years and welcomes improved coordination and collaboration of funding and services for children, families, and child care professionals.”
Deidre Anderson, CEO of United Inner City Services (UICS) in Kansas City, added, “This could not come at a better time for providers, as we are still coping with the impacts of COVID and planning for how we sustain our programs long term on the other side. The coordination of programs and services within one department will improve the experience for providers and families by strengthening the way local communities throughout the state deliver essential early care and education services.”
The programs offered by UICS serve more than 300 children, most of whom qualify for subsidized child care or Head Start. Over time, advocates believe this coordinated service delivery model will further support programs like those offered by UICS that not only prepare children to enter school but also support working families and the economy.
Advocates also noted that Governor Parson’s focus on early childhood and consolidation of child care, home visiting and other intervention services aligns well with the workforce development focus of his administration.
“A large portion of Missouri’s workforce is made up of parents who need care for their children, before they reach school age and beyond when they need before and after school services so they can maintain their own employment,” said Linda Rallo, Vice President of Aligned, an organization that works to amplify the business voice to improve student outcomes and workforce readiness in Missouri. “We are not only investing in the workforce of now by supporting parents, but the workforce of the future, by ensuring our children enter school prepared to learn and succeed.”
The Governor’s Executive Order creating the Office of Childhood will be presented to the legislature, and if not rejected, would begin its official work on August 28, 2021. In the meantime, the state departments will continue to plan and meet internally and externally with stakeholders to ensure a successful transition in August.