The first years of a child’s life are some of his or her critical learning years. In fact, research has shown that most of a child’s brain development is complete before he or she even begins kindergarten. Unfortunately, many children are denied the opportunity to learn during these critical years. Despite parents’ best efforts, their children may still be denied access to an early development center because of economic reasons or lack of availability in the center itself. According to Susan Main, executive director of the Early Learning Coalition of Duval County, the number one barrier to access is affordability. Main estimated it takes $7,500-$9,000 annually to sustain a quality early learning environment per child. Currently, if families meet certain requirements they can qualify for a child care subsidy program. Access usually comes in the form of vouchers that are offered for services at licensed day care centers. The vouchers are only available to working families that earn up to 150 person of poverty level income. Parents must be working or going to school more than 20 hours per week. The vouchers allow qualifying parents to pay a smaller fee for childcare services proportionate to their income and selected center. However, the program only covers about 30% of eligible children and the wait list stretches about 6 months with about 4,800 people currently listed. The problem is worsened by the state of the economy, lack of parental knowledge about available resources and lack of transportation services to get children to the care centers.
The benefits of early-childhood development are long-lasting and increase a child’s success rate in school. However, providing quality care for children has proven to be problematic in Florida. For more read Providing quality child care proves difficult in Florida.