Commentary

Alan Guttmacher: Child care a necessary and wise investment

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Alan Guttmacher, M.D., a pediatrician and medical geneticist, who is senior advisor to the Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children. He served as director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health from 2009-2015. Previously, Dr. Guttmacher served in a number of roles at NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute. From 1987-1999, he was in the Department of Pediatrics at UVM.

Last week, Vermont’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Financing High Quality Affordable Child Care sent a report to the governor and Legislature, providing policymakers with recommendations and financing options to make high-quality affordable child care available to all families who need it.

This report makes one thing clear: Investing in the early years is a social and economic imperative for Vermont.

And such investment is not only a sound fiscal strategy, but the most effective way to improve lifelong health and well-being.

I have been fortunate over the past three decades to work first as a pediatrician in Vermont and then at the National Institutes of Health, returning to Vermont a year ago after directing the NIH’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development for the previous six years. My experience as a Vermont pediatrician gave me a belief that the earliest years of life have profound impact on children’s lives. My experience at the NIH convinced me not only that the latest and best scientific research strongly supported this belief, but that such research also showed the earliest years of life have a profound impact on the health of the adults who grow from those children.

Yet, almost 80 percent of Vermont infants and toddlers likely to need care don’t have access to high-quality, regulated child care programs, according to a report by Let’s Grow Kids.

 

In recent years, rigorous research has increasingly pointed to the importance of the first years of life in setting the trajectory for lifelong well-being. This research has various threads, from “brain science” to “developmental origins of health and disease,” but weaves a common lesson for public policy: the first five years of life are the most important for affecting lifelong cognitive, emotional, social and physical well-being. Our best hope for the future is to adopt practices and policies that recognize this reality.

Another reality is that over 70 percent of Vermont children under age 6 have all available parents in the workforce, meaning they’re apt to need some form of child care while parents are working. Yet, almost 80 percent of Vermont infants and toddlers likely to need care don’t have access to high-quality, regulated child care programs, according to a report by Let’s Grow Kids.

As a society, we need to increase our investments of time and energy in the first years of life. This is the right thing to do, but also a savvy investment in our state and nation’s future. Rigorous long-term studies have shown that every dollar spent on high-quality early care and learning programs yields a return on investment that ranges from $4 to $9.

It is not frequent that sound science, sound fiscal strategy, and sound social policy all point to the same conclusion: informed by the recommendations in the Blue Ribbon Commission’s report, we need to make progress towards a Vermont where all children have access to high-quality, affordable child care and early education.

Vermonters can make sure our legislators know this issue is important to us by signing the petition at www.letsgrowkids.org, thereby stating support for prioritizing children and increasing public investments in high-quality, affordable child care to ensure every Vermont child has a strong start. It’s sound science, sound fiscal strategy, and sound social policy.

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  • edward letourneau

    Sorry we can’t afford the taxes needed to pay for childcare for other people’s children.

    • John Greenberg

      Edward Letourneau:

      You can’t afford the taxes now, but you will be able to pay $4-9 more in the future for every dollar you failed to spend? (“Rigorous long-term studies have shown that every dollar spent on high-quality early care and learning programs yields a return on investment that ranges from $4 to $9.”)

      That sounds penny wise and pound foolish to me.

      • edward letourneau

        Nonsense. Its not the responsibility of the other people to pay for child care for those who can’t afford the children they bred. I am willing to contribute to a revolving loan fund that help them move to a place where they can get jobs that pay them more. Its better than paying for more welfare. And that is what this child care scheme is in the final analysis.

  • Jessica Demertt

    How about if we make progress towards a Vermont where all parents can choose to stay home and give their children the love, stability, and early learning for a strong start?

  • John Snell

    Thank you for sharing your expert experience and wise words. Truly an important investment that pays returns beyond any we might get elsewhere.

  • John Grady

    Vermont pays out about $30 million in EIC. That could be expanded to help more mothers stay home.

    https://vtdigger.org/2016/12/12/study-recommends-state-move-toward-universal-early-child-care/
    ” estimates about $35,000 per infant / toddler and $15,000 per preschooler a year at child care centers. For home care roughly $41,000 for babies,
    $21,000 for toddlers, $14,000 for preschoolers.”

    2 years as infant, toddler = $70,000
    2 years as a preschooler= $30,000
    $100,000 in child care costs so a mother can work 4 years. If she worked 40 hour weeks at $12.50 an hour she would GROSS $100,000 in 4 years.

    What people are admitting is kids are graduating high school lacking even the very basic life skills like how to be a parent and how to manage their life. This isn’t something new, just look at the people running things and their lack of problem solving skills.

    Alan Greenspan was an expert.