North Carolina’s future depends on our children today. We know that the foundation for future learning, health and well-being is built during early childhood. When we commit to giving every child a strong foundation in their first years of life, we create healthy and vibrant communities for all of us. 

– Governor Roy Cooper

Today we know more than ever before about the importance of children’s earliest years in shaping their learning and development. Yet, never before have the needs of young children and their families been more pressing.

The Week of the Young Child® is a time to recognize that children’s opportunities are our responsibilities and to recommit ourselves to ensuring that each and every child experiences the type of early environment—at home, at child care, at school, and in the community—that will promote their early learning.

To help children turn five ready to thrive, Smart Start of Mecklenburg County allocates $33 million in state, county, and private funds to 18 local agencies providing 26 activities to families and children ages birth to five. This week, we take the opportunity to highlight some of our funded programs that align with the educational nature of Week of the Young Child.

We invite you to join the celebration by sharing pictures and stories about your family on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram using the #SmartStartStories and #WOYC22 hashtags.

 

MECK Pre-K Monday

Research continues to show that the impact of children attending pre-k goes far beyond the early childhood years. In a recent study, The Life-Cycle Benefits of an Influential Early-Childhood Program, it is shown that every $1 invested in early childhood care and education generates more than $7 in returns. Thus, pre-k provides the strong foundation needed for children to be successful in every stage of their education journey and eventually grow into self-sufficient adults who contribute to the strength of their community.

As of 2021, there is no longer an income eligibility requirement to enroll in MECK Pre-K. This means that all children residing in Mecklenburg County who turn four on or before August 31 can register to attend high-quality, free pre-k to prepare them to enter Kindergarten. This is a significant milestone paving the way for all children to participate in an impactful program that will set the tone for a lifetime of learning.

MECK Pre-K aims to ultimately offer universal pre-kindergarten to all of the County’s 4-year-old children. This year marks the fifth year for enrollment. Learn more and register your eligible four-year-old here.

MECK Pre-K

Teach Me Tuesday

Did you know science shows that 80% of brain growth happens by the age of three? Beginning from birth, young brains develop like little muscles. They get bigger and stronger the more parents and caregivers interact with children. Continue reading about Smart Start-funded programs that encourage and educate the importance of parent and child interaction, which help children turn five ready to thrive.

  • The Basics Mecklenburg

The Basics Mecklenburg is part of the national Basics Learning Network. The local campaign, administered by Smart Start of Mecklenburg County, includes a countywide coalition of organizations and individuals working to make sure that every child gets a great start in life. The Basics are for everyone: parents, grandparents, and other family and friends who care for children ages 0-3. Learn more about the five basics here, or email The Basics Mecklenburg manager to become a valued community partner.

The Basics Mecklenburg

  • Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library

To ensure that families with children birth to five are equipped with the appropriate developmental tools needed to promote early literacy, Smart Start and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library are working together. In fact, the Imagination Library is celebrating its fifth anniversary in Mecklenburg County in 2022!  To register an eligible child between the ages of birth to 4 years living in Mecklenburg County, click here.

Dolly Parton's Imagination Library

  • Ready4K

At Smart Start of Mecklenburg County, we know that learning begins at birth and that children’s first teachers are their parents and caregivers. That is why we’re investing in Ready4K, an evidence-based texting service designed to support the growth and development of children. Families receive age-appropriate texts to their phones with tips and ideas for supporting their child’s development through everyday activities. Stanford University researchers found the Ready4K approach increased family involvement both at home and in school, resulting in literacy gains of two to three months for preschool-aged children. Text SSMC to 70138 to enroll or sign up here.

Ready4K

Work Together Wednesday

In 2019, Smart Start of Mecklenburg County’s board of directors aspired to develop a more thorough understanding of the services available to children with special health care needs in Mecklenburg. Consequently, Smart Start funded a countywide needs assessment of available services, resulting in the 2021 publication of Taming the Octopus: An Overview of the Systems of Care for Children Under Age 5 with Special Health Care Needs Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

This report outlined the current system and highlighted the gaps and challenges families face when trying to care for their child’s special needs.  Since its publication, the early childhood community has taken several tactics to address the needs that were identified.  One gap, in particular, stood out to Smart Start staff: the number of children who were not completing the process of moving from services provided by the Children’s Developmental Services Association, or CDSA, available by law until the child turns 3, to services provided by the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools.  In partnership with CDSA and CMS, Smart Start staff made the strategic decision to shift the focus of its program, Guiding Parents to Services (GPS) to help children from losing services at a crucial point in their development.

GPS has been serving children with special needs and their families since 2012 and was created as a result of a previous study that highlighted the lack of community resources for families with young children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  GPS acted as a clearinghouse for ASD resources, provided training and support to child-care teachers, and most importantly, help families navigate the world of Autism.  Increasing awareness, understanding, and beginning acceptance of autism have occurred since then and GPS is proud to have played a role in fostering this change in Charlotte.

By taking the expert knowledge of supporting families, navigating special education, and the unique needs of children with delays, GPS pivoted its approach and entered into a partnership with the CDSA, to assist families transitioning from the CDSA. Utilizing a case management system and a coaching approach, Guiding Parents to Services shifted its focus beyond autism to help all families receiving CDSA services transition into CMS. GPS helps bridge the time children are exiting from CDSA services, but are still pending programming with CMS, by supporting families and empowering them to get the services their child needs. This expansion has allowed us to continue our agency mission of helping all children be kindergarten-ready.

As a result of a successful pilot year, CDSA has asked GPS to expand its program to serve all families enrolled with CDSA.  With an average of over 2,500 children exiting CDSA per year, the referral rate to CMS special education services continues to increase.  In order to meet this growing demand, GPS hopes to add an additional staff member to the program in FY22-23.

 GPS is excited to be able to support more children and their families with the goal of obtaining educational support. 

GPS

 

Thoughtful Thursday
Smart Start of Mecklenburg County is known for its allocation of state, county, and private funds to local early childhood serving agencies. In order to increase impact and innovation, Smart Start of Mecklenburg County granted over $313,000 in one-time funding for Innovation Grants – projects addressing gaps in services for families and children ages birth to five.

Smart Start of Mecklenburg County’s second annual Innovation Grants support efforts committed to championing equitable access and opportunities for all in early childhood. We value change that’s centered on community, collaboration, and collective action as integral to shifting entrenched power structures. Smart Start funded thoughtful projects that engage community voices, particularly communities of color, to build equitable solutions.

To learn more about our 2022 grant recipients, please click here.

Family Friday
Because children ages prenatal to five and their families are amongst those impacted by the pandemic, Mecklenburg County Commissioners have awarded $342,500 of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) funds to Smart Start of Mecklenburg County. Funds will be used to implement Smart Start’s home visiting plan, “Home Visiting: Equitable Evaluation, Growth, and Expansion of Services in Mecklenburg County.

Early childhood home visiting and parenting education programs (HVPE) strengthen the relationship between parents and children, increasing parenting skills and building confidence. By supporting families, these programs ensure children are ready to learn, improve child health and keep children safe.

Smart Start of Mecklenburg County seeks to fulfill its mandate and lead the way for the prenatal to five community. Thus, the ultimate goal of Smart Start’s home visiting plan is to increase access to affordable, quality childcare and education for children and families and help all children turn five ready to thrive.

For full details of the home visiting implementation plan, please click here.