2023 State of Early Childhood in Southington

Posted on June 8th, 2023

On June 7, 2023, the Early Childhood Collaborative of Southington hosted their annual “State of Early Childhood in Southington” presentation and breakfast. Thirty-two people attended representing the Southington Public School district, elected officials, businesses, non-profit organizations, funders, ECCS board members, childcare providers, healthcare, Parent Ambassadors and other parents.

Joanne Kelleher, Executive Director of the ECCS, talked about how the organization has been working to expand and update the data captured in their Community Plan. This was done with the assistance of two consultants, Anne McIntyre-Lahner, CEO, Actions2Outcomes and Ron Schack, Ph.D., Managing Director, The Charter Oak Group, LLC.

Ron then gave a presentation: Using Population Data: We have data, so now what? (see slides: Data-So-What-Now-ECCS-2up). He acknowledged that many people have a fear of data, whether from a fear related to one’s own skills and capacity or from a fear of the way the data may be used. He explained that the data they had collected for the Early Childhood Collaborative of Southington are indicators for the population. Indicators are a measure which helps quantify the achievement of a result. The result is a condition of well-being for children, adults, families or communities. For the ECCS the results goal is that all children are healthy and ready to learn. There is a linkage between the performance measurement of a particular agency or program and the results which can be seen in the indicators. There are tools that can be used analyze the indicators and help move further towards the desired results.

Joanne then presented some of the interesting indicator data identified during this work along with issues learned about what parents and childcare providers are facing (see slides: ECCS-State-of-Presentation-June-2023-2up).

  • The Southington baby-boom continued in 2022.
  • Of the 4,757 households with children under 18 in Southington (2021), 12% were led by single parents.
  • The number of children with a “preschool experience” was higher than expected post-pandemic.
  • Kindergarten teachers utilize the kindergarten entrance inventory (KEI) to rate the skills of each entering student on six learning domains: language; literacy; numeracy; physical/motor; creative/aesthetic; and personal/social.  For each domain, the teacher classifies the student in one of three performance levels which denotes if a student requires substantial instructional support (Level 1), some support (Level 2) or minimal support (Level 3), in that particular area. The number of Southington students requiring substantial support, across all 6 domains, dropped to an all-time low in the 2020-2021 school year, despite this being during the height of pandemic. It is unclear if this is due to a change in testing as some students were remote, or if the children benefited from being at home with their parents since the previous March when the shutdown started. The number requiring substantial support increased the following two years but hasn’t returned as high as the pre-pandemic levels. The slides show the summary and trend for two of the domains, the other four domain trends can be found in the Community Plan,
  • Several economic data points were shared. Superintendent Steve Madancy clarified that the school district currently has 29 students who are considered homeless, which is more than doubled from the previous high of 14.
  • In looking at the Smarter Balanced Assessments, there is a huge difference in the percentage of students who met or exceeded the testing goal when you compare those who are eligible for free and reduced lunch to those who are not eligible. And this is consistent over time.
  • The childcare crisis continues with issues faced by both the early childhood educators as well as parents.

Joanne then provided an overview of the work the ECCS has done over the last year and the resources available.  Photos from ECCS activities were also shared in the opening slideshow show (see slides: ECCS-In-Community-2022-2023-2up).

The free Sparkler App for parents and providers with children aged 0 to 5 includes development screening tools. Links to the app and the registration codes for participating Southington centers and preschool programs are at http://www.southingtonearlychildhood.org/sparkler/

One new ECCS project is to create closed Facebook groups that target Southington parents based on the age of their children. This will give a safe space for them to connect. A 2021 study confirms that helping parents form strong bonds with each other is a critical aspect of family engagement and may improve educational opportunities for children and youth. (see New Study Confirms Benefits of Connecting Parents with Each Other to Build Social Capital | Global Family Research Project (globalfrp.org))

Over the course of the presentation, work done by partners from the Southington Library, Bread for Life, the Southington Behavioral Outreach Project, as well as the ECCS Parent Ambassadors, were also discussed. Board members and funders were thanked.

There was then a community conversation about the material presented and the issues that attendees are seeing. They fell into these broad categories.

  • A director confirmed the issues presented around the child care crisis reflects what they are seeing. Their staffing issue is not only about finding applicants but getting quality teachers who have experience.
  • Children are in crisis from an emotional regulation standpoint, especially those who hadn’t had a previous preschool experience. These aren’t children with special education needs. There isn’t enough support for these children or the staff who are working with them. The cause of this needs to be identified. “Covid” should no longer be the reason, need to look at the individual child.
  • The Southington Public School district has added mental health staff (social workers and therapists as well as outside consultants) to support teachers and to help parents with understanding and acceptance.
  • How can early childhood educators be helped with professional resources or consultants to address these social-emotional and mental health issues? The behaviors have become more extreme. The staff don’t have the skills or time to address these issues.
  • More needs to be done with the transition from Pre-K to Kindergarten. One center director shared that when they tried to reach out to kindergarten teachers to share information about students who needed additional supports that the kindergarten teachers weren’t interested. Parents also need more support with this transition. Hundreds of parents attended the Kindergarten Information session in late January, yet fewer than 30 attended the Kindergarten Readiness Workshop a few weeks later.
  • There is a missing link with pediatricians to support parents with developmental milestones and referrals.
  • Parents are stressed. The emotional issues of the parents are impacting their children. Parents are the model/support for children and children mirror the adult behavior they see.
  • Parents and childcare providers don’t always know about the resources that are available to them. An example that attendees were unaware of is the UConn Child and Family Development Program on West Street which is holding Summer Drop-in Parent Consultation Service and a support group for parents of neuro-diverse children. Additional services are listed in the Southington Behavioral Health Resource Directory. How can these be better promoted or advertised beyond being listed in the ECCS Resource Directory and social media pages?
  • There is limited formal structure for parents and children to connect until kindergarten. The new ECCS Facebook groups will start to address this.

The ECCS Executive Director, board members and Parent Ambassadors will work to identify how the ECCS can help address these issues through continued community partnerships and funding. If you have any suggestions or want to get involved, please contact us.