Oklahoma Partnership for School Readiness, whose board of directors serves as the state’s Early Childhood Advisory Council, reported that the majority of families receiving services in Oklahoma have trouble accessing affordable, quality child care. Now the organization, funded by both public and private dollars, is working on a plan to address the alarming child care crisis that blankets both rural and urban communities in Oklahoma.
By partnering with six community organizations throughout Oklahoma, OPSR gathered feedback about experiences related to pregnancy, birth and the first year of a child's life. Project HOPE, Harnessing Opportunity for Positive, Equitable Early Childhood Development, is designed to generate progress toward equitable outcomes for young children and their families by supporting state leaders, cross-sector state teams and local coalitions. The stories collected through OPSR’s Project HOPE can help communities make decisions and create solutions that address infant mortality and increase equity.
Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the project was led by a consortium of three partner organizations – Nemours Children’s Health, Boston Medical Center’s Vital Village Network and the Build Initiative. Oklahoma was one of four states selected to participate in 2018.
Of the more than 400 stories collected, the majority of respondents reported that their most unmet need was access to affordable child care. The data is bolstered by OPSR’s annual report that emphasizes how more than half of Oklahoma is considered a child care desert. Other unmet needs include transportation, health care, housing or utilities, safety and food.
“I was working with a mom who needed parenting classes,” said a Department of Human Services representative. “She did not have reliable child care, and therefore she frequently struggled making it to class on time or at all. This was a barrier because it prolonged the time it took for her to complete the class and was a hindrance to her truly learning the material because she was often stressed about child care issues.”
“The COVID pandemic highlighted the reality that child care is essential infrastructure and access to high quality, affordable child care is a necessary component of a thriving economy,” said Carrie Williams, executive director of OPSR. “It also provides children the opportunity to grow and prepare for school. In the first 2,000 days, brain architecture is forming and creating a foundation for all future learning. The environment, experiences and relationships a child has will lead to a strong or weak foundation. OPSR has already begun reviewing the information collected from Project HOPE and has developed a strategic plan of action to address inequities in Oklahoma’s early childhood system.”