State of Early Childhood in Southington 2022

Posted on June 1st, 2022

On June 1, 2022, the ECCS hosted their annual “State of Early Childhood in Southington” presentation and breakfast. Over 30 people attended representing the Southington Public School district, elected officials, businesses, non-profit organizations, funders, board members, childcare providers, healthcare and parents.

View the presentation slides, including the survey results. The article below has more details.

Joanne Kelleher, Executive Director of the ECCS, and Rachel Wardwell, Board Chair, started the presentation. Board members and funders were thanked with a special recognition to outgoing board member Michelle Beauregard who served for 14 years, including as chair.

Parent Engagement

Barbara Vita from the Connecticut Children’s Collective talked about her organization, the connection with The CT Office of Early Childhood and how parent voice is being raised state-wide. The Connecticut Children’s Collective is a network of over 40 local partnerships serving over 60 communities working to create positive outcomes for Connecticut’s children and families. Only by working together can we identify the local needs of children, provide outreach to families, and improve local programs and services. The Collective recognizes that local leaders, parents, educators, and providers know best what works in their community, and working together can dramatically improve outcomes for all Connecticut’s children. The ECCS is one of the local partner organizations.

The CT Office of Early Childhood is the State agency that focuses on young children and their families. The Connecticut Children’s Collective is an intermediary between the CT Office of Early Childhood and local organizations such as the ECCS.

The OEC Parent Cabinet is a diverse, parent-led advisory group to the OEC that meets regularly to help make improvements in the lives of children and families across the state. It works directly with the state agency that oversees childcare and Care 4 Kids, home visiting, licensing, and early intervention. Barbara shared the bios of the two Parent Cabinet members who serve in Region 6, which includes Southington. Ivoni Montes joined the Parent Cabinet because she wants to help new immigrants’ parents that are unfamiliar with the program available to them.  She is also employed by the YMCA Family Learning of Wethersfield as a Teacher’s Assistant. Ivoni is a native from Peru where she worked as a Police Officer for several years until moving to the United States in 2005. She is a Wethersfield resident, married with 3 children. Casey Russo is a homeschooling mom of six children, ages 3-12, who resides in Meriden. She is passionate about racial and disability justice. She is a founder and admin for the Connecticut Homeschool Alliance, an organization dedicated to changing the face of homeschooling in CT by fostering a community where all who wish to educate their children from home feel safe, seen, and supported.

Each local collaborative who is funded via the Connecticut Early Childhood Funder Collaborative is required to have at least 2 parent ambassadors who are local liaisons to the OEC Parent Cabinet. ECCS Parent Ambassador, Rebecca Alicki shared what she, and fellow Ambassador, Betsy Mintz, have been doing in this role.

Survey Results

Joanne then continued the presentation by discussing the recent jump in birth rate, changing demographics in Southington, and the survey process and results. The survey focus areas that stood out are:

Food:

Q: During the past 30 days, was there any time that you and/or your family did not have enough food or money to buy food? Yes = 30.88%

Q: In the last 12 months, were you ever hungry but didn’t eat because there wasn’t enough money for food?  Yes = 24.86%

Attendees were surprised at these numbers, but they match what Bread for Life is seeing. The Southington Public School District’s Free and Reduced lunch rate has been in the 23-24% range for last 4 years, up from 8.1% in 2008. Southington is fortunate to have several organizations that provide food and financial assistance, but residents may not know where to look.

Safety and Community:

Q: I feel like I am treated fairly and with respect in my community. Always = 40.79%, Sometimes = 39.09%, Never = 14.73%, N/A = 5.95

Q: There have been instances in the past year where I have been afraid of being harmed in my own home.  Always = 6.52%, Frequently = 20.40%, Sometimes = 14.73%, Never = 58.36%

It wasn’t clear if respondents were afraid of being harmed in their own home from internal factors, such as a domestic violence situation, or external fears, such as a potential robbery. Built into the survey was information about Safe Connect Connecticut, the statewide domestic violence hotline. Call (888) 774-2900, email safeconnect@ctcadv.org or chat at https://ctsafeconnect.com/.

Mental Health:

Q: There have been instances in the past year where I have been concerned about my children’s mental wellbeing. Always = 7.1%, Frequently = 19.22%, Sometimes = 48.3%, Never = 25.28%

The presentation has several other mental health questions plus statistics from 211 Counts showing calls to 211 from Southington related to Mental Health & Addition = 780 in the last year vs. 630 the previous year. The survey also provided information about where to find mental health support, but unfortunately, survey respondents reported that appointments weren’t always available or there was a long wait time.

Conversation

The childcare crisis was discussed from both a parent and provider perspective. Joanne shared what the ECCS is currently working on, including promotion of the SPARKLER app, and how attendees could help. A list of recent bills that were passed this session by the CT State Legislature were included in the presentation slides, see more details about them below.

During the Community Conversation that followed the group shared about the importance of reducing the stigma of mental health issues by talking about it and the lack of available of mental health appointments. A suggestion was made to work with the Chamber of Commerce or Town Economic Development department to bring new mental health and childcare providers to town and to make the new business opening process easier. The group reflected on the fact that survey respondents didn’t know about ECCS resources and services, available programs for children, and where to find developmental or mental health support despite the information being available.

In summary it was a good opportunity to talk about issues around raising young children and there is more work to be done.

A State-Wide Perspective

Many of the issues discussed in the ECCS presentation are covered in this recent CPTV special report.  In CUTLINE: COVID to Kindergarten, parents, educators, policymakers, and providers talk to Connecticut Public about how COVID-era mitigation and a collapsing childcare industry are impacting kids’ social and emotional wellness. Details about how to watch are at https://cptv.org/programs/covid-to-kindergarten/

Bills Passed in 2022

Here is a list of bills that impact young children and mental health issues that were passed in the 2022 State Legislative Session. Both the CT Office of Early Childhood and the State Department of Education are working on determining the logistics of how these should be rolled out. The Office of Legislative Research issued this report of Major Public Acts 2022 Legislative Session.

SB1 – AN ACT CONCERNING CHILDHOOD MENTAL AND PHYSICAL HEALTH SERVICES IN SCHOOLS. To expand health services in schools. Introduced by: Education Committee

SB2 – AN ACT EXPANDING PRESCHOOL AND MENTAL AND BEHAVIORAL SERVICES FOR CHILDREN. To address pandemic impact on childhood depression, anxiety and developmental delays through the expansion of support services. Introduced by: Committee on Children

HB5001 – AN ACT CONCERNING CHILDREN’S MENTAL HEALTH. To improve the availability and provision of mental health, behavioral health and substance use disorder treatment services to children. Introduced by: Public Health Committee

SB377 – AN ACT CONCERNING HEALTH INSURANCE COVERAGE FOR NEWBORNS. To extend the time period within which an insured shall: (1) Provide notice of the birth of a newborn, and (2) pay any required premium or subscription fee to continue the newborn’s coverage beyond that period. Introduced by: Insurance and Real Estate Committee

SB408 – AN ACT ESTABLISHING A SMALL BUSINESS CHILD CARE INCENTIVE PROGRAM. To require the Commissioner of Economic and Community Development, in consultation with the Office of Early Childhood and the Connecticut Health and Educational Facilities Authority, to develop and implement a small business child care incentive program to promote the expansion of existing child care centers and the development of new child care centers in the state. Introduced by: Commerce Committee