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Parents and nonparents in Nebraska support more programs for young children, survey finds

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Nebraskans with kids and those without can agree on one thing:

More should be done in the state to help young children and their families.

Researchers revealed a report Tuesday showcasing Nebraskans’ attitudes toward the care and education of young children at “Parenting Matters: A National Symposium.” The event centered on strategies to support parents of young children.

The Nebraska Parents Speak About Early Care and Education report showed that at least 60 percent of the study’s respondents believe the state needs to invest more in early child care and education.

More than 70 percent of respondents said they agreed that public programs should be available for 4-year-olds and more than 50 percent said these programs should be around for 3-year-olds.

The study, conducted by the University of Nebraska’s Buffett Early Childhood Institute and Gallup, surveyed more than 7,100 Nebraskans and is the state’s most comprehensive public opinion poll on early childhood issues.

Renee Wessels, the associate executive director of the Buffet Institute, said the study’s findings are “striking” because they show similar responses from parents of young children and Nebraskans without kids.

“Overall, we think this makes the case for the investment in these programs and services,” she said.

State Sen. Tony Vargas, who represents downtown and South Omaha and spoke at the symposium, said the report shows that Nebraskans value early education and care initiatives.

“When people are getting early childhood programming that is strong and supporting the family, people see not only the social impact, but the economic impact,” he said.

Researchers have often concentrated on the development of children from birth to age 8 because it can be crucial to providing a strong start in school and life.

While there is no “magic bullet” for ensuring young children grow up well, research shows that many aspects matter, said Iheoma Iruka, the Buffett Institute’s director of research and evaluation.

These factors can be something as simple as educating parents about the benefits of reading to their children. Some of the symposium’s broader issues included family medical leave and making early childcare both accessible and high-quality.

But other parents need personalized support, especially families in poverty, Iruka said. In a 2016 Kids Count in Nebraska study, researchers found that 21 percent of children age 5 and younger in Nebraska live in poverty. Those children are more likely to encounter other issues such as trauma, leading to further problems down the road, Iruka said.

“If we don’t address it in the early years, we’ll see it reverberate over time,” she said.

Wessels said she hopes the symposium will increase public understanding about issues concerning young children and their parents. More than 200 people attended the event, hosted by the Buffett Institute along with the American Educational Research Association and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Another goal of the event was to provide policymakers with findings that show how Nebraskans view these issues, Wessels said.

On that front, the data is encouraging, Vargas said.

“This is going to be critical for making sure there is a different narrative about what Nebraskans want,” he said.


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