Happy 20th Birthday CCDBG!

Yesterday, the Office of Child Care in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) hosted a symposium celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG). There was much to celebrate and the audience was filled with leaders from across the country who came together to reminisce about the extraordinary events that led to the enactment of CCDBG twenty years ago, discuss how far we have come, how much we have learned, and a look forward to the challenges and opportunities of the next twenty.

The enactment of CCDBG in 1990 was a huge win for children and families across the country. The law provides resources to assist low-income families with child care expenses so parents can attend work or pursue educational opportunities. Parents receive vouchers that can be used with any legally operating child care provider. In fiscal year 2010, more than $5 billion in CCDBG money was invested, making child care more affordable for 2.5 million children each month.

As an attendee who was not a part of the 1990 victory, I took note of the stark contrasts between then and now. At the symposium, child care visionaries including Helen Blank, Barbara Willer, and Abby Cohen painted a picture of the unique circumstances surrounding the enactment of CCDBG twenty years ago. As they describe it, the late eighties ushered in an unprecedented national movement around child care. The issue was one of the top three in the election of 1988. Constituents jammed Congressional phone lines for hours, mailed in paper chains that, when strung together, stretched from the Capitol to the White House, and held rallies on the Capitol steps. It’s sad to say, that I have never witnessed momentum like that behind any children’s issue.

Despite the real and significant challenges posed by the recession and budget deficits in states across the country, I believe we are uniquely poised to take the next great leap forward in child care and early learning. The past two years have built considerable political momentum for investment and innovation in early childhood policy and programs. From the earliest days of his campaign, President Obama has promoted investment in high quality early childhood programs for all children. Furthermore, although there remains much work to be done to ensure permanent increased investments, funding has followed this rhetoric at levels unprecedented in recent history. Research has shown us what high quality care looks like and why it is so important to promoting healthy outcomes for all children. The knowledge is there, the ball is rolling, and the time is now.

We need commitment not only from our legislators and the executive branch, but also backing from the American public to ensure increased investment in our youngest children and improvements in the quality of care for our most disadvantaged families. In the era of e-mails, social networks, and online petitions, we need to find innovative ways to connect with the public and build the level of political will that we saw in 1990. We need to find the electronic paper chain of 2010.

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