“I’m very impressed with work being done here,” said David Hansell, acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF), on his visit to our Early Learning Communities (ELCs) this month.
Hansell came to our Larkins ELC to learn more about the program and its recognized effectiveness in helping parents and caregivers prepare children to be good learners in school. Hansell toured the center and met with leaders, supporters and consumers of the program.
Hansell is a strong advocate of the integrated early childhood services model, which offers a broad spectrum of services to families so they can provide educative environments for young children. The ELC program at Southwest Solutions exemplifies this model and has achieved outstanding outcomes.
Ismael Ahmed, director of the Michigan Department of Human Services, facilitated Hansell’s visit to our program.
“It is important to look at programs at ground level to see what works and what doesn’t, and what implications this has for early childhood issues,” Ahmed said at the meeting.
Hansell reiterated the commitment of the Obama administration to prioritize early childhood programs. The United Way for Southeastern Michigan (UWSEM), which is spearheading the ELC initiative in the tri-county area, places early childhood development at the top of its list of agency goals, said Michael Tenbusch, its vice president of Educational Preparedness.
Annemarie Harris, also with UWSEM, said that research shows that the ELCs enhance the cognitive development of children. She added that the United Way hopes to expand the program significantly to reach many more parents and as many as 50,000 children.
At the meeting, Donna Cielma – who directs Children, Youth and Families at Southwest Solutions – spoke passionately about our ELC program.
“We provide an inviting, language-rich and positive environment that impacts and embraces 4,500 children,” Cielma said. “But we’re only scratching the surface. More than 70% of children in Detroit live in low-income households, and we all must do more to help these families prepare children for success in school.”
Near the end of the meeting, Hansell asked participants for suggestions to take back to Washington D.C.
Tenbusch urged the federal agency to look for ways to better support local solutions and informal networks that are effectively addressing early childhood issues.
Cielma, too, spoke about the importance of increasing federal funding and support for quality, community-based initiatives
“This work is sustainable and produces excellent results very efficiently,” Cielma said. “The cost of our program is only $5 per child per day. This nominal investment pays extraordinary dividends. We owe it to the next generation and the future of our country to increase this investment.”