Caring for Seattle’s Children

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“Child poverty is an open sore on the American body politic. It is a moral failure for our nation that one-fifth of our children live in poverty,” so wrote Nicholas Kristof in Sunday’s New York Times.

Of course, he’s right. It is a disgrace that the “lottery of birth” has such devastating impact on our children, including right here in Seattle.

There is good news to report, however.

Closing-the-Opportunity-Gap-InfographicIn Seattle, we have strategically assembled a “continuum of care” from birth to age five, implementing a strong series of proven, evidence-based solutions to help our kids have a strong and fair start and to make sure they are ready to thrive when they reach kindergarten. As the City Council prepares to vote on next year’s budget in the coming weeks, I’m asking my colleagues on the Council to strengthen this continuum of care even more.

Why is this so important?

Because only 40% of children from low-income families entering kindergarten in Seattle Public Schools in 2015 demonstrated readiness in the six most important domains for children age five: social-emotional, physical, language, literacy, mathematics, and cognitive ability. This means 60% of these kids were not ready for kindergarten.  In contrast, 67% of their non-low income peers demonstrated readiness in all six domains.

This readiness gap is shocking. Children who arrive at the kindergarten door unprepared to learn are already behind and they face a rough path going forward. That’s why early childhood investments are so important, for kids, for their families and for all of us. Thankfully, we know what to do.

Birth to Two-Year-Olds

The continuum of care starts during pregnancy and has a powerful impact. Seattle is one of only a few large American cities that fully fund the Nurse Family Partnership (NFP), a proven home visitation program designed to help parents do the right thing for their newborns through age two. NFP works wonders—better pregnancy outcomes, fewer emergency room visits, fewer incidents of abuse and neglect, greater health and education outcomes, to name a few. NFP helps give our children a strong and fair start.

Two and Three-Year-Olds

Two- and three-year-old toddlers are at a crucial stage of brain development and the Parent-Child Home Program (PCHP)—another home visitation program—focuses on literacy and language.  PCHP kids are 50% more likely to be ready for kindergarten than their peers who do not participate in PCHP. PCHP kids significantly outperform their peers in Grade 3 reading and math achievement. PCHP helps prepare our children for kindergarten.

I hope we will be able to soon announce that every child living at or below the federal poverty level will be able to participate in the PCHP.

Three and Four-Year-Olds

There is strong academic research showing that children who attend at least one year of high-quality preschool before entering kindergarten do much, much better than their peers who do not. Better in terms of social-emotional development, executive function skills related to playing together, following instructions, and focusing their attention on tasks at hand, and better academically once they enter the K-12 school system. This same research even shows better health outcomes and higher earning power as adults.

The Seattle Preschool Program (SPP) is now in its second year and will expand to become universal in future years. High-quality preschool gives our children a stronger start.

Five, Six, and Seven Year-Olds

Research done in Seattle has shown that kids who can’t read at grade level in the 3rd grade have a much higher dropout rate than kids who can read at grade level. In fact, not reading at grade level in the 3rd grade is the strongest predictor that a child will not graduate from high school.

The Book Up Literacy Program is designed to address the “summer literacy slump” where reading ability declines by providing age-appropriate books for children to take home after kindergarten, first and second grade. This program is in eight of Seattle’s highest poverty elementary schools and I’m hoping my colleagues will add additional funds so it can expand to 11 more schools this next spring. Helping our children maintain their reading skills is a key part of making sure they have a strong and fair start.

Family Child Care

Many children from birth to the elementary school years are cared for by family child care providers, many unlicensed, most home-based. The federal government has pushed hard in recent years to increase child care quality standards, and many cities and states are increasing quality by investing in evidence-based practices that enhance quality of care and better support the family child care workforce. I’m urging my colleagues to review how the city government can boost quality by providing training and ongoing coaching to care providers.

This continuum of care—from pregnancy to the early elementary grades—is designed to help close the opportunity gap for Seattle children, to counter the national disgrace of childhood poverty, and to create the strong and fair start we want for all of our children. Doing this work well is another way Seattle can lead our nation.

Click here for a graphic summary of these important, life changing programs.

You can follow the Council’s budget deliberations and decisions at