Helping Children Early is Key to Building Success

The Keene Sentinel

Cliches become so because they’re overused, but there is usually a germ of truth in them. One such case is the notion that our best investment as a society is in our children. For some, that may provoke a response of “Well, duh!” Others may disagree entirely, although we’d challenge them to name an alternative. And for some, the reaction might fall along the lines of: OK, but what does that mean?

Granite Staters, including those in the Monadnock Region, have long made a commitment to investing in our children. The money, thought and effort put into education at all levels is an example. The state-run Children’s Health Insurance Program, now under the Children’s Medicaid moniker, is another. There are myriad programs through nonprofit agencies devoted to family stability, early education and health that provide needed services.

Momentum seems to be building, though, toward the idea that getting children off to the best start possible is vital in influencing our state’s future.

State Sen. Molly Kelly of Harrisville, who’s pushing legislation this year to address issues of child hunger, said as much in an interview last week. Kelly gave the opening remarks at a recent event at Keene Middle School devoted to the topic of early childhood development.

The event, dubbed Raising Monadnock, included a showing of the N.H. Public Television film “Raising New Hampshire: The Early Years.”

It was put on by Impact Monadnock. That organization began in the past couple of years as an effort to leverage the region’s philanthropic and other resources in a big-picture attempt to better the community. Its first priority: improving the lives of the region’s young children.

It’s an obvious strategy if you think about it. The better start our children have, the more they’ll accomplish. It’s building from the foundation up.

There are other groups dedicated to the same issue. Among them is the nonprofit Every Child Matters, a national organization with state chapters that keep tabs on how children are faring. Among the findings of the group’s New Hampshire chapter:

1 in 8 Granite State children live in poverty.

Child care costs for infants in this state average nearly $1,000 per month.

Two-thirds of New Hampshire children under age 6 have all available parents in the workforce.

In 2013, more than 85,000 children were enrolled in the state Children’s Health Insurance Program.

To be clear, it is just some of our children who are facing such challenges. Another group tracking the general wellness of the state’s children, N.H. Kids Count, ranked the Granite State second-best in the nation in 2015 on that score, and the state has regularly ranked at the top in previous years.

Yet, the numbers above reveal a multitude of issues affecting some of the state’s children. The problem stems from the recent recession and the state’s slowness in recovering well-paying jobs, which appears to be even more pronounced in this region. It’s built into the regressive tax structure and historic stinginess of the Legislature regarding paying for education, mandating kindergarten and funding programs that help those most in need. And it’s worsened by the growing epidemic of drug abuse.

Now, businesses are sensing the need to be more proactive in building the workforce they’ll need down the road. Colleges are pointing out the unreadiness of too many students arriving at their doors, and are extending their resources to help high schools deal with the issue.

And groups such as Impact Monadnock are making it a priority to pour resources into early childhood wellness.

Now is the time to be focusing on building the foundation for the future by helping children succeed right from the start.

Originally published February 25, 2016 The Keene Sentinel