New program targets early childhood


Staff Writer

Monday, May 13, 2019

Local residents working with the Down East Partnership for Children recently received a briefing about Gov. Roy Cooper’s newly created N.C. Early Childhood Action Plan.

Rebecca Planchard, senior early childhood policy adviser for the state Department of Health and Human Services, told the folks that work on the plan began in August 2018 when Cooper issued an executive order directing the Department of Health and Human Services to develop the project.

“In this plan, we are defining early childhood as birth to age eight, since outcomes at third grade are often predictive of future outcomes for a child. When we are thinking about early childhood, we need to think cohesively about all aspects of a child’s life — not just education,” Planchard said. 

The plan focuses on achieving 10 specific goals and strategies that affect three aspects of a child’s life: their health, providing a safe and nurturing environment and helping them to learn and become ready to succeed. There are specific goals that the state hopes to attain by 2025, according to the plan.

The health goals include improving the infant mortality rate, especially for African-American babies, and providing preventative health services for children and their families through Medicaid expansion. The goal also includes including food security for children across the state.

“Currently, African-American births face 2.5 times the infant mortality rate as white births in this state,” Planchard said. “And one in five children in the state face food insecurity, placing us in the bottom 10 states in the nation.”

In order to provide a safe and nurturing environment for young children, the NC Early Childhood Action Plan sets goals for achieving more safe and secure housing for young children and helping them to be in safe and nurturing families and caregiver situations. 

One of the goals for achieving a more nurturing environment is finding more permanent families for young children in foster care.

“One-half of North Carolina children ages four and five in foster care will have spent more than 1,000 days in foster care before they are adopted,” Planchard said. “For a young child, that is a significant part of their life.”

Improving the social-emotional health and resilience of young children is another goal of the safe and nurturing environment plank of the NC Early Childhood Action Plan.

The educational plank of the plan has three goals. Two of the goals for this aspect of the plan are improving access to high-quality opportunities to engage in early learning and putting young children on track for reaching their developmental goals before they enter kindergarten.

The last goal, like many aspects of the plan, is one that has been promoted for many years — improving the number of children who read at grade level by the end of third grade.

“In 2017, only 39 percent of North Carolina fourth-grade students were reading on a proficient level,” Planchard said.

Planchard urged community members, schools and organizations to work together to better the lives of young children in the state.

”The bottom line is that we need all of us to do something about this issue,” Planchard said.

For more information about the new Early Childhood Action Plan, go to https://www.ncdhhs.gov/about/department-initiatives/early-childhood/early-childhood-action-plan.