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Governor Wolf Introduces “Ready to Start” Task Force to Focus on Needs of Youngest Pennsylvanians

September 27, 2018

Harrisburg, PA – Governor Tom Wolf today announced the creation of a “Ready to Start” task force focused on informing the strategy to address health, human services, and education policy for infants and toddlers ages zero to three.

“The Ready to Start Task Force complements my administration’s robust agenda for all children, which includes access to high-quality pre-K through 12 education and access to health and human services programs and supports,” Governor Wolf said. “Ready to Start rounds out this agenda with a focus on our youngest Pennsylvanians.

“The environment in which babies live and learn in their first three years has an enormous impact on their cognitive, social, and emotional development. The task force’s goal is to identify programs and policies to help infants and children age zero to three get a strong, focused beginning toward a healthy, happy, fulfilling life here in the commonwealth.”

The Ready to Start Task Force will identify key themes and options informed by stakeholder engagement and analysis of current programming to inform future policy recommendations and an implementation plan with emphasis on three guiding principles:

  • Improving health outcomes of infants, toddlers, and their families;
  • Strengthening the home environment for infants, toddlers, and their families; and
  • Preparing infants and toddlers for future school success.

Following the creation and successful outcomes of Gov. Wolf’s Middle Class and School Safety task forces, which used a similar approach to engagement through regional listening sessions, the Ready to Start Task Force will host six sessions across Pennsylvania in October and November.

The intention of the listening sessions led by professionals with a focus on early learning and child development is to gather information and insight and to look at current and possible strategies to help the youngest Pennsylvanians.

The governor appointed six co-chairs to lead the Ready to Start Task Force: Janet Haas, M.D., Chair of the William Penn Foundation Board of Directors, representing philanthropic and business entities; Jodi Askins, Director of PennAEYC, representing advocates and providers; David Rubin, MD, MSCE, Director of Population Health Innovation and PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, representing health and research; Maureen Cronin, Executive Director of The Arc of Pennsylvania, representing children with disabilities and their families; Dr. Valerie Kinloch, Dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Education, representing child development and education; and Nyanda Finley De Santos, parent and Director of Family and Community Engagement at Community Services for Children’s Head Start Program, representing parents and community partners.

“Focusing on children’s development in their earliest years is one of the most powerful ways to improve the course of their lives,” said Dr. Janet Haas. “Brain development begins before birth, and children need high-quality care and positive engagement with adults to foster healthy development. The multi-year agenda this task force will develop is critical for expanding supports that provide all children a strong start to enter school healthy and ready to learn.”

“PennAEYC is excited to support the governor in this effort focusing on infants and toddlers,” Jodi Askins said. “The earliest years are all about relationships. Infants and toddlers crave and develop attachments to the special people in their lives. If we can help our communities set an agenda and strategy to support those special people with thoughtful policies that strengthen systems, we can make a lasting impact for Pennsylvania’s youngest citizens”

“We have strong research showing that the support families receive during early childhood can lay the foundation for a child’s future health outcomes and success in adulthood,” said Dr. David Rubin. “I’m proud that our state is prioritizing developing an action plan to improve the health of Pennsylvania’s youngest residents, and I look forward to working with my fellow co-chairs to see it through.”

“The birth to three period, with the fastest rate of brain development, is an especially critical time of development for infants and toddlers with developmental delays and disabilities,” Maureen Cronin said. “The Arc of Pennsylvania applauds the governor for recognizing how much early social emotional development and physical health provide a foundation that can change a child’s developmental trajectory and improve outcomes for children, families, and communities.”

“I am excited to participate in this task force and to collaborate with others to move forward impactful work that addresses education, health, and human services in the commonwealth,” Dr. Valerie Kinloch said. “It will be critically important for this work to result in improved health outcomes, increased educational opportunities, and more networked forms of community engagement for our infants, toddlers, and families.”

“Infants and toddlers are among the most vulnerable members of our society, yet the resources available to support parents and caregivers of young children are often inadequate to ensure their needs are properly met,” Nyanda Finley de Santos said. “Pennsylvania’s Ready to Start Task Force provides an opportunity for the voices of key stakeholders, moms, dads, early care providers, and other members of the community, to be heard and to inform policy that will directly impact our young children and ensure future outcomes that are comprehensive, equitable, and of the highest quality – outcomes all families in Pennsylvania deserve.”

Representing the Wolf Administration on the commission are Secretary of Human Services Teresa Miller, Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine, Deputy Secretary of the Office of Child Development and Early Learning Suzann Morris, and Deputy Secretary for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Dr. Loren Robinson.

The Ready to Start Task Force builds on the significant progress that has been made under Governor Wolf’s leadership to advance education, health care, and human services programs that support Pennsylvania’s children, families, and communities.

Since 2015, the Wolf Administration has established numerous policy initiatives to improve the lives of Pennsylvania’s children regardless of where they live or their family circumstances:

Human Services to Create a Healthy Home Environment
This year, 15,000 children will receive home-visiting services and other evidence-based supports through Pennsylvania’s Community-Based Family Centers and Nurse-Family Partnership programs.

Gov. Wolf’s 2018-19 budget included a $5.3 million increase for community-based family centers, including $4.5 million to provide home-visiting services for families affected by opioid use disorder, along with increased funding for home-visiting providers and Nurse-Family Partnership programs.

These programs have a family-centered focus and strength-based approach that works with both the child and parent beginning as early as when a new baby is brought home from the hospital.

Studies of various home-visiting programs have shown positive impacts on children’s cognitive development and behavior, higher grade point averages and achievement scores at age 9, and higher graduation rates from high school.

Health Care from Day 1
Research shows that supporting the well-being of children through nutrition and health care supports, positive caregiver relationships, and high-quality early learning opportunities in the first three years of life sets them up for lifelong success. And children who receive high-quality early learning and care perform better in school, graduate at higher rates, and earn more throughout their lives compared to their peers.

Governor Wolf’s support and promotion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) helped increase enrollment to provide this vital service to more than 180,000 children in Pennsylvania. The program provides health insurance to uninsured children and teens up to age 19 who are not eligible for or enrolled in Medicaid. CHIP is available for families whose income is above 133 percent of the poverty level.

High-Quality Early Learning
Over the course of his tenure, the Governor has worked with the General Assembly to increase investments in public education at all levels by $1 billion, from early childhood to K-12 to postsecondary – including expanding state-funded preschool programs by $115 million.

These investments and efforts have yielded significant outcomes for Pennsylvania’s children and families, including increasing the number of children able to attend pre-kindergarten by 60 percent, adding more than 9,600 slots in Pre-K Counts and an additional 1,300 in the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program (HSSAP).

Increased funding in the 2018-19 budget for early intervention (birth to age 3) will help serve 39,930 infants and toddlers and their families/caregivers across Pennsylvania.

The 2018-19 budget also included $6.8 million in increased funds for child care services paired with $50 million in federal funding to serve 1,100 children on the child care waiting list.

In August 2017, Pennsylvania revamped its Keystone STARS child care rating system designed to improve quality in child care and early learning offerings. The governor’s 2018-19 budget included $5 million for professional development for early care and education professionals and $2 million to pilot contracting with STAR 3 and STAR 4 programs in Pennsylvania’s Pre-K Counts program to serve infants and toddlers, improving access to and continued enrollment in high-quality early learning settings by weighting subsidies that help low-income families pay for child care toward higher-rated child care offerings.

The Ready to Start Task Force will share findings and options with the governor in January 2019, including a review of existing programs and initiatives.

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