Why Funding Early Childhood and Home Visiting Matters More than Ever
Fight Crime members in Washington urge policymakers to prioritize high-quality preschool and home visiting programs in 2017
Recently, talk radio host Todd Ortloff sat down with Fight Crime: Invest in Kids to discuss how to prevent youth from becoming involved in crime in Washington state. With state budget cuts looming, prevention and early intervention programs could be in jeopardy. “Things hang in the balance depending on where the state budget is,” Orloff said.
However, Fight Crime’s position is that early education and home visiting matter now more than ever. Erica Hallock, Washington State Director for Fight Crime, explained, “Though kids ages zero to 5 comprise a third of the under-18 population in Washington state, funding for programs targeting these kids is less than two percent.” As it stands in Washington, 60 percent of kids are entering kindergarten unprepared to learn. And kids who start behind tend to stay behind.
Hallock added that, while K-12 funding is important, it shouldn’t come at the expense of the very programs that can actually improve the K-12 experience and reduce costs to taxpayers. For example, Washington state spends $11 million just on kindergarten remediation (kids who repeat kindergarten due to not being prepared academically or socially). The key to early intervention is to ensure that kids get off to a good start, namely, high-quality preschool for all kids and voluntary home visiting programs for at-risk families.
It’s a sad reality: When there are budget cuts, the first things to go are prevention and early intervention programs.
Pete Peterson, Director of Juvenile Services, Clallam County, Washington
Mark Nichols, Prosecuting Attorney for Clallam County, and a Fight Crime member offered his perspective as a prosecutor: “It’s in the formative years that we really start developing habits and the foundation is laid for a positive successful life that involves good decision-making and the exercise of sound judgement.”
Pete Peterson, Director of Juvenile Services, Clallam County, sees the effects of early interventions firsthand, described the cumulative effect of falling behind: “Kids stigmatize themselves and it affects how they think of themselves, and react—doing things like committing crime and skipping school, which can lead to negative behavior and involvement in the criminal justice system.”
Orloff, who has interviewed local policymakers on early education in the past, agreed with the connection between early intervention and involvement in crime down the road, noting, “What happens with these kids, if they don’t get into a preschool, is that they really don’t get in anywhere—except trouble later.”
Guests also discussed the role of families and the cycle of poverty and crime that often stymies young kids’ odds of success. “Research shows that the more kids are exposed to trauma the more likely they are to have mental health problems and future crime activity,” Hallock said. “Breaking the cycle is important by ensuring kids off to right start.”
In conclusion, funding and prioritizing early intervention programs is critical for Washington State in 2017. Hallock sums up why: “Early learning is critical to the success of K-12. If those kids enter K-12 ready to learn, that makes it much easier for the K-12 system by lowering remediation costs, spending less on special education expenses, and more.”