DHS Director Christine Ferguson ‘s remarks focused on the urgent need to select a small number of clear, understandable indicators that can be used to show that investments in early childhood education yield positive results for children. She said that legislatures around the country, including Rhode Island’s General Assembly, are making unprecedented investments in early childhood programs. They have been told that participation in high quality early childhood education programs increases children’s readiness for school, and that the long- term cost/benefit is very positive because dollars invested in early childhood programs save much larger expenditures for more costly interventions later in life.
Director Ferguson gave the example of RIte Care, Rhode Island’s Medicaid Managed Care program. Just before a major expansion of the program occurred four years ago, the Department of Human Services identified several clear, understandable, and compelling measures to gauge the effectiveness of the program, such as birth intervals, the number and timing of prenatal care visits, and smoking during pregnancy. These indicators have been tracked every year, and the results have been very positive. She is able to take simple trend graphs depicting these results around the state to her meetings with legislators and business leaders. She said it has been clear to her that when you can show compelling data on the impact of a program, elected officials will happily support continued or expanded funding because they can see that it is making a difference.
Director Ferguson said that in the area of early childhood education and child care, there is no one set of perfect indicators and encouraged the participants to work during the course of the conference to agree on a small number of indicators so that we can all start using them. She warned that unless we immediately identify and start tracking a few measures that are compelling, and that make sense to the average person, people in her position and others around the country will have a difficult time convincing elected officials that they should continue making large appropriations for child care and early childhood education at the expense of other competing priorities.