By Guest Columnist MILTON J. LITTLE, Jr., president and chief executive officer of the United Way of Greater Atlanta
Like many other fathers, all I have ever wanted is the reassurance that my children – and now my three grandchildren – are happy, healthy and on track for a successful future.
Today, many families seeking to supplement the care they are providing to their children at home with developmental expertise look at a variety of child care options. The research shows that beginning at birth, environments rich in language and child-caretaker interaction are crucial for developing the skills children need to succeed in school and life.
In my capacity leading United Way of Greater Atlanta, I have visited high-quality child care programs across the region and witnessed children building valuable cognitive, motor, social, and emotional skills when they stack blocks, interact with other children, read a book with a teacher and learn important daily routines. As a result, these children are far more likely to arrive in kindergarten ready to learn.
Early childhood development is not just a benefit for children receiving the services and their families – it benefits all of us. In the corporate world, we would call any investment that yields a consistently high rate of return a good one. Research by Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman has shown that quality early education for disadvantaged children yields an average return rate of 7 to 10 percent per year through better outcomes in education, health, sociability, economic productivity and reduced crime – more than any other social investment.
The key, though, is quality. Many families, including those across the 13 counties that United Way Greater Atlanta serves, have trouble identifying the highest quality programs – whether at a center, school, home or other location.
That’s where Georgia’s Quality Rated Child Care system comes in.
Since 2012, Quality Rated has been helping families make informed choices about child care, preschool, and pre-K programs. Operated by the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, Quality Rated is an independent, trustworthy resource that rates programs based on what’s important to a child’s development. Greater Atlanta has nearly 450 Quality Rated programs, and more than 600 other programs are in the process of becoming Quality Rated.
Like star rating systems for hotels and restaurants, Quality Rated is easy to understand and use. Georgia child-care experts evaluate programs to ensure they are implementing evidence-based best practices and supporting a child’s development in the critical areas. Regardless of whether a child care program receives a one, two or three-star rating, all participating programs have gone above and beyond state health and safety requirements and are working to provide a high-quality experience to the children in their programs and the families they serve.
Let’s ensure that every child has a strong start in school and life – and give every father, mother and caregiver the reassurance they need – by supporting child care programs that participate in Quality Rated and are committed to making sure every child can reach their full potential. Our region and entire state will reap the benefits of that success for decades to come.
You can visit www.QualityRated.org to learn more and search for programs in your area.
Milton Little has also held several other nonprofit leadership roles, and his corporate experience includes serving as a vice president for AT&T and Lucent Technologies. He currently sits on the board of directors of the Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students (GEEARS), among several other boards.