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Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

Guest Blog: Rep. Nora Slawik on Early Childhood

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The Minnesota Family Investment Program is often viewed as a program for parents. But how does it impact the children in families receiving this assistance? Like the juvenile court reforms discussed at the CEED Round Table last month, the Minnesota Family Investment Program may benefit from a change in perspective. That is, what does the program look like when it is seen from the children's point of view? Because children in poverty are at a higher risk for experiencing maltreatment, could receiving assistance help to prevent abuse and neglect? Today's guest blogger discusses a report from the Children's Defense Fund of Minnesota that indicates how cash assistance may benefit the safety and development of young children.

As a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives who focuses on early childhood issues, I've spent a great deal of time pushing for meaningful, thoughtful reforms to child welfare and education. Improvements in early childhood education and welfare are key to future educational success, economic growth, and reducing poverty. Everyone has seen the various studies that show for every dollar put in to early childhood, you get a $12-16 return on investment. Unfortunately, budget deficits have made true reform and investment difficult.

One program that could use more attention and some changes is the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP). 70 percent of the people in this program are children, half of them are age 5 or younger, and as a report from Children's Defense Fund Minnesota laid out, "few policies address them and little is known about their well-being." Marcie Jefferys, Policy Development Director at the Children's Defense Fund of Minnesota, authored the report. She also discussed it at a recent class of the graduate course on early childhood and public policy, which I teach at the Humphrey School at the University of Minnesota.

As the report notes, children at 5 years old or younger are in the years of critical brain development and the deep poverty these children deal with everyday is devastating to that development. The report also notes that federal law and MFIP statutes focus almost entirely on adults and provides little attention to data collection and policies to help children get out of poverty.

The report outlines several recommendations and reforms, most notably: to improve data collection and reporting, improve low-income wages, review cash assistance levels, and reconsider child care policies that are actually making it more difficult for children to receive early learning experiences. I support many of the recommendations in this report. We cannot make major changes to child care and MFIP if we don't understand what our children are facing and what they need to succeed.

We won't be a successful state in the future if we're not supporting the youngest in our state. A strong early childhood system is the key to that success. As the report concludes, "By the time today's infants and toddler enter the workforce, they will be supporting more older and younger Minnesotans than any prior generation. Minnesota will need every child born today to be as healthy and productive as possible if the state's economy is to thrive." It's long past the time for us to get to work.

Nora Slawik is in her seventh term as a State Representative from the east metro suburbs of Maplewood and Oakdale. She is the lead Democrat on early childhood education issues in the House. She teaches at the Humphrey School, University of Minnesota and received her MPA from the Humphrey School and her BS from Arizona State University.

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