Philanthropy has never had an opportunity like we now have to make a meaningful difference in the lives and futures of America’s youngest kids. Big, private investments in early childhood advocacy can be a game-changer for millions of families.

Many lawmakers see early childhood policy to be a bipartisan common ground in an increasingly polarized political environment. No wonder. Polls show that voters across the political spectrum are crying out and want relief when it comes to child care.

The polling is not surprising given what we’re also learning from the RAPID survey, which since April 2020 has gathered information from a diverse mix of nearly 14,000 parents of young children in all 50 states. In March 2021, RAPID added a survey of early childhood providers and, so far, has gathered data from nearly 2,600 child care providers.

The findings are troubling.

Given the pandemic, inflation, the ending of federal relief efforts, and other factors, parents are facing greater hardships and experiencing more distress. To make matters worse, families with young children are experiencing disruptions to child care, in part because child care providers themselves are facing increased hunger, hardship, and disruptions to their own employment. Plus, given the field’s chronically low compensation, finding staff to work in child care homes and centers is a huge challenge.

For most people in philanthropy, the return on investing in the early years, especially for those families from under-resourced and marginalized communities, is old news. The clear brain science, the reams of longitudinal studies, and generations of family stories of success are today the starting point for discussions about how to best prepare America’s youngest kids to reach their full potential.

Unfortunately, how we in philanthropy act on that knowledge has not evolved significantly. While we prioritize evidence and outcomes and invest in organizations accordingly, we continue to think small. Investing in effective programs and service delivery is essential, but we will never reach all children or achieve anything close to equity without parallel investments in policy change.

The White House and federal lawmakers allocated historic levels of funding to state governments for pandemic relief and other aid through last year’s American Rescue Plan. Much of that relief — including the Child Tax Credit — has expired. Some federal lawmakers are looking at ways to do more before their mid-term elections in November.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers, too, are eager to act. In these past few months, early childhood advocates and policymakers worked together in states to achieve significant additional gains for young children and families. Browsing a recap of state actions shows additional public investments, restructured agencies, and other gains.

Philanthropic investment can accelerate progress: It can inform better policymaking, ensure states are more equitably distributing any remaining federal relief funds, promote innovation, modernize data systems, provide talent to fill important vacancies in key jobs, support community planning grants, evaluate effectiveness, expand what works, and amplify success stories — all of which is necessary to sustain public investment. And sustained public investment is what it’ll take to make sure every child gets a good start in life.

Read the full article about supporting young children by Jessie Rasmussen at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.