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Early education needs more support in New York: Reading proficiency, mental health both areas of concern

  • / Updated:
  • Edwin Viera 

Early education in New York State needs more support and better resources, according to a new report.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Book found in the last decade, the number of kids ages three and four not in school remained the same at 41%.

Rose Shufelt, director of health and social emotional wellness for the Child Care Council, feels there are some options to help kids get the early start they need to succeed. She urged parents to provide good-quality child care early.

“Even parent supports and parent trainings, those types of things, would be helpful,” Shufelt noted. “We have to start early, and we have to get high-quality early childhood providers the tools that they need to be able to provide those supports.”

Shufelt believes early literacy programs, which the Child Care Council supports, can be effective. The need is reflected by the number of fourth graders not proficient in reading declining 2% from 2009. The report also found the number of eighth graders not proficient in math remained the same over the last decade.

Given the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on children and their families, mental health has been of great concern. Steuben County was 2.2% higher than all of New York State for adults having poor mental health for 14 or more days.

Margie Lawlor, associate director of resilient children and families for Pro-Action of Steuben and Yates, has seen families coming in with more intensive needs. She pointed out access to early intervention is more restricted, as reflected by families in the area.

“They are experiencing a lot of stress that comes from a variety of sources,” Lawlor observed. “Whether that’s for economic reasons, somebody in the family has health issues, a lot of just the up and down with COVID; when people have to quarantine for COVID and that upends everybody’s routine. “

Additional tensions over using masks and attending large gatherings has been affecting well-being overall. Lawlor said Pro-Action added a one-on-one counselor to help work on more intense needs. She hopes it will address issues the pandemic has brought on, and provide people with a sense of peace.