Puerto Rico’s budget problems threaten resources of early childhood education at a time when need for them appears to be growing. As members of Puerto Rico’s early childhood community have explained, “[i]f births are healthy and well timed, children’s health and development are “on track,” families are supported and supportive, and these efforts are sustained through life by committed and competent caregivers and educators, then children will succeed in school and in life, thus diminishing the need for remedial programs that currently cost us hundreds of millions of dollars without achieving the desired results.”
In an application for Puerto Rico to hold the 2014 World Forum Foundation conference, a local group of early childhood educators clearly recognized deficiencies that plague the U.S. territory:
- 19% of children are born prematurely putting too many babies at risk of developmental delays and other health concerns.
- 10% of children fail the first grade, suggesting that some are arriving at school without the skills they need to succeed in school.
- 47% of children in public schools are not proficient in reading and writing by the 3rd grade, significantly decreasing their chances of ever graduating.
- 58% of children under six live in poverty.
- 36,371 children are abused or neglected, putting these children’s lives, health, emotional well-being, and cognitive ability at risk.
In terms of possible avenues for improvement, the educators agreed on the following:
- That one of the fundamental challenges for integral early childhood development in Puerto Rico is the lack of a unified long-term vision for child development, which inhibits our capacity to develop the comprehensive, coordinated and effective early childhood development (ECD) policies, strategies, programs, and financing systems necessary to ensure that every child reaches his/her full potential.
- That programs and services for young children and their families need to incorporate evidence-based practices that will lead to improved outcomes.
- That systems need to be in place to provide parents and primary caregivers with appropriate information, access, quality, coordination and follow up services to address their children’s needs.
- That comprehensive strategies need to be in place to ensure that all children receive periodic developmental screening and assessment to ensure early identification and intervention on problems, when they can best be resolved.
- That the general population, the media, the business community, and the constituents with the power to influence programs and policies that can benefit our children need to have the necessary information on the importance of the first years in life for our citizens’ healthy development and well-being, and the role of quality early care and education as a strong economic development strategy.
The stated mission of the World Forum Foundation is to promote an on-going global exchange of ideas on the delivery of quality services for young children in diverse settings. The group seeks to accomplish this mission by convening gatherings of early childhood professionals around the world and promoting the continuing exchange of ideas among participants. The 2014 World Forum on Early Care and Education was held in San Juan from May 6-9th. Event organizers called the event a great success, attended by 841 early childhood professionals from 81 nations.