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Executive Directions, January 2001

Children's Voice Magazine

As we embark upon a new year, a time when so much is new and unknown, we've chosen a familiar theme for this issue of Children's Voice-the importance of securing safe, quality child day care for all children.

It seems that as we emphasize the crucial role parents play in a child's healthy development, we sometimes forget the equally important role of the child care provider. The number of children in care and the demand for child care workers is projected to increase for the next several years, compounding the need to strengthen child care programs across the country.

We need not look further than recent research to justify the importance of quality child care. Brain development research presented only four years ago at President Clinton's White House Conference on Early Childhood Development and Learning cited a critical period of brain development from birth to age 3, and the actions of parents and caregivers during this period can permanently affect a child's ability to learn. During these years, children begin learning to discern shapes and colors; understand sounds that precede language development; grasp a sense of emotions; and lay the foundation for reading, math, and motor skills. Further research concludes that, in those first three years, 85%-90% of core brain structures have been formed and that anything to influence a child's mental and emotional development has already taken place.

Exposing children in these tender years to the best caregivers and programs child care has to offer can have lasting positive effects on the people they will grow to be. To that end, we must increase our national efforts and investments to ensure that every child has access to quality day care. Two articles in this issue, and the regularly featured column "State of the States," highlight model programs in several states and in our nation's military that speak directly to how we might achieve this goal.

But we also must not forget the many children who go without the child care they need. Although still considered a relatively new concept, wraparound services- a coordinated network of professionals to meet the needs of individual children-is reaping positive results. These services can include subsidized preschool care and sessions for parents to help them enhance their children's capabilities during those important first years. Although findings are still limited, the earliest research has shown that children who receive wraparound services show improved behavioral and emotional functioning. Extensive research, however, is not the only way to measure the successes of wraparound or other child and family services. A significant way to gauge a program's results is through the accreditation process. Not only does accreditation give a program or organization a stamp of approval for its successes, it also lends credibility that the program is among the best in providing services to children and families in its community.

On that topic, I extend my sincere congratulations to Director Jess Mcdonald and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, which last year became only the second state public agency-and the largest-to achieve accreditation. It has provided a model to follow as other states work toward the same goal. An account of the groundbreaking path Illinois DCFS laid is profiled in this issue.

In wishing everyone a happy and prosperous new year, I urge us all to put providing quality day care programs for the nation's children, and staffing them with capable, devoted caregivers, high on our list of resolutions.

Shay Bilchik

National Child Care Conference

Child care programs are now seeing instances of parental substance abuse, child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, parental incarceration, homelessness, HIV/AIDS, and teenage pregnancy affecting more of the children and families they serve.

CWLA is responding to this growing crisis by sponsoring a national conference later this year that will focus on the delivery of child care services to these children. Scheduled for October 31-November 2, 2001, in Cleveland, Ohio, the conference will examine and highlight best practices, model programs, research, and public policy initiatives.

An estimated 250 to 300 professionals are expected to attend.

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