Many of us support pre-kindergarten programs because they help children enter kindergarten more prepared and give parents the flexibility to work and support their families. But there is another reason child abuse prevention advocates should support pre-k:
The research shows that a high-quality pre-kindergarten (pre-k) program with a strong parent coaching component can actually help prevent child abuse and neglect.
Since the 1960s, the Chicago Child-Parent Centers (CPC) preschool program has been operating in low-income Chicago neighborhoods. The program offers pre-k for children beginning at age 3, in addition to a strong focus on parenting support. Each center has a staffed parent-resource room as well as staff members who connect families with resources to address their needs. Parents are required to participate at school and staff members also do home visits.
In high-quality, long term follow-up studies, researchers found that children in the CPC program were half as likely to experience repeated abuse or neglect and nearly half as likely to be placed in out-of-home placements like foster care, compared to similar children not in the program. (Reynolds et al., 2007) These are huge impacts, especially for a program that is not focused on child abuse prevention.
So, how are we doing on providing access to high-quality pre-k in Virginia? There is still a lot of room for improvement! The Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI) serves about 17 percent of the state’s 4-year-olds, which is progress over the 6 percent served in 2003. While many other children are served by Head Start or private preschool programs, too many Virginia children still do not have access to a high-quality pre-k program.
Research shows that pre-k programs must be high-quality to get strong outcomes for children. VPI meets 6 of 10 quality benchmarks measured by the National Institute for Early Education Research. In addition, state funding per child has decreased each of the last 3 years. As a result, Virginia ranks 26th in the nation on access for 4-year-olds and 23rd in the nation on state spending on pre-k.
To adequately serve our most vulnerable children and potentially prevent child abuse, Virginia will need to continue investing in high-quality pre-kindergarten programs.
So how can we make a difference? SCAN is planning an Advocacy Day this November, a special opportunity to join a group of advocates in voicing our concerns and commitment to improving the resources and supports — like Pre-K — that strengthen families and ensure opportunities for our youngest members. Stay tuned for a date and details later this summer.
– Lindsay Ferrer