LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A recent report ranked Arkansas near the bottom nationally for child well-being.
The 2023 KIDS COUNT data book ranked Arkansas 43rd in overall child well-being. The report considered multiple factors, including access to quality early childhood education programs.
Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families Executive Director Keesa Smith spoke on how Arkansas fared this year over last year.
“A statistic that was particularly problematic that we saw is the number of three- and four-year-old children that are not in Pre-K. The last time this report came out it was 52%, now it’s even higher at 56%, which is the highest we’ve seen,” Smith said.
Smith said one cause of this percentage is that there is a lack of childcare options.
“The problem comes with the availability of infant and toddler care,” Smith said, ” You may have a daycare near you, but you may not have a daycare that actually has slots for an infant or a toddler.”
That’s the exact problem that working mother Kali Gill said she ran into.
Gill said she worries that quality early childhood education centers won’t ever be available.
“It was scary, you know, and my child was definitely already born before I found a facility for him, and I stayed home with him for 18 months, before a friend agreed to watch him for me,” Gill said. “It doesn’t look like it’s going to happen for me, with the timeframe. He’s three, so I feel like he’ll be in kindergarten before his spot becomes available.”
“I can say that my son has been on waitlists for more of an in-home type daycare, than you know a quality center, since before he was born,” Gill said.
Smith also said there needs to be a level of investment to this industry.
“If children have the opportunity to start education as early as three and four, then we should be providing that to them,” Smith said.
The full report can be found at AECF.org.