Cradle to K draft report released

Hodges says eliminating early disparities is essential for a healthy city

Credit: Photo by Dylan Thomas

Mayor Betsy Hodges is seeking public input on a draft plan for eliminating early childhood disparities in Minneapolis.

Hodges’ Cradle to K Cabinet released a series of recommendations Tuesday for Minneapolis residents from birth to age 3 that focus on health and brain development, access to stable housing and enriching childcare experiences. The public is invited to provide feedback online or in person at a series of upcoming forums hosted by cabinet members.

Hodges is focusing on the city’s youngest residents because she said research shows 80 percent of brain development happens by age 3, and early disparities can impact children for a lifetime. By adding supports for children and parents “we are a long way ahead of the game in terms of addressing the opportunity gaps that kids face, because that’s the age range in which they start,” she said.

“That means the work we do for zero to 3 year olds will help prepare children to take advantage of the early education opportunities that we as a community are investing in and should be investing in,” she continued.

To ensure more Minneapolis children get off to a healthy start, the draft report recommends an expanded early childhood screening program and improved access to mental health services for children. The recommendations also focus on language acquisition, targeted in-home visits with the parents of young children and starting a community conversation on the importance of early childhood development.

The report states Minneapolis faces “a public health epidemic of children arriving at kindergarten unprepared.”

Increasing access to affordable housing will mean building more units for the city’s poorest residents, those at 30 percent or less of area median income, according to the report. The city added only seven units for families at that income level during all of 2014, Mikkel Beckmen, director of the Hennepin County Office to End Homelessness, said.

The report also recommends targeted funding for homeless children and their families to help them find housing and get on a path to economic stability. It states that more than one in four Minneapolis children age five or younger were living below federal poverty guidelines in 2013.

For improving access to high-quality childcare, the report suggests increasing financial assistance for low-income families and finding ways to better reimburse providers that keep open slots for those children. The report notes 70 percent of Minnesota regularly rely on family and neighbors for daycare, and recommends working with those providers to add educational opportunities.

Hodges hasn’t yet said how much it could cost the city to act on the recommendations or where the funding might come from. A mix of city, state and federal funds support many of the programs mentioned in the report.

The city’s 2015 legislative priorities at the State Capitol include expanded funding for in-home visits with new parents and for the early learning scholarships that help low-income families afford preschool.

The Cradle to K Cabinet is co-chaired by Carolyn Smallwood, executive director of Way to Grow, and Peggy Flanagan, executive director of Children’s Defense Fund–Minnesota and a former Minneapolis School Board member. The feedback they gather from the public over the next few months will be incorporated into the final report, due out in the spring, Smallwood said.

Flanagan said they aim to involve the whole community in the conversation — not just parents and daycare providers — because “everybody in this city is invested in our littlest Minneapolitans.”

“We believe that there’s an opportunity to create true equity in this city, and addressing existing disparities is critical, but if also can eliminate them before they actually start we’re going to be in a much better position in the city of Minneapolis,” Flanagan said.

To read the Cradle to K Cabinet draft report, or to submit your feedback on the recommendations, go to www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/mayor/cradle/WCMS1P-136627. Comments can also be emailed to Cradle2K@minneapolismn.go