A Healthy Start

How our community is investing in our youngest citizens

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Frederick Douglass is quoted as saying, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” But, how are we ensuring babies and toddlers are set on a trajectory for lifelong success?

Ariel Ford, deputy administrator, Department of Youth and Family Development, says it all starts with the first five years of a child’s life.

When Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke first assumed office, he recognized the lack of a coordinated system around early learning. Chattanooga isn’t immune to issues that millions of American parents face: how to get quality early childcare and how to afford it. Seeing this gap sparked a community-wide conversation about the value of quality early childcare to every Chattanoogan. Enter Ariel and her team, who focus on how to expand quality early childcare for as many parents and children as possible.

“We’re focused on three main things,” she said. “We strive to support new or lower-ranked childcare facilities as they achieve higher ratings, to help existing high quality facilities maintain their ratings or gain even higher ratings, and to expand access to quality childcare into ‘childcare deserts.’”

Through a new initiative, the City supported the opening of over 300 seats, and is seeking to support local businesses to open 600 new seats in high quality childcare programs for Chattanooga families. Additionally, Ariel and her team work to empower childcare workers through Child Care WAGE$ to gain higher education by providing a stipend for childcare workers pursuing a degree who agree to remain at their current facility for at least six months, and make below an income cap. Nationally, child day care service workers make an hourly mean wage of $10.67, putting most below the national poverty level.

To Frederick Douglass’ point, investing in quality early childcare has some of the highest proven returns on investment of any community program. It’s estimated that for every dollar invested in quality early childcare, there’s a $7 community return on investment. In a recently released study, a group of researchers observed former participants in a 1960’s preschool program to see how their lives were the same or different from their peers. They found that these recipients of high quality childcare were healthier, had more stable relationships, had higher education and better social skills 50 years after being part of the program.

“It’s about asking how we set kids up to learn to learn, to question and trust,” Ariel said. “All parents want what’s best for their kids. It’s really an issue of resources and how different community partners can give early childcare the attention and investment it deserves.”


Read these resources to find out more.


For parents:

For childcare providers:


About the importance of early learning:

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