To improve support for young children and their families, we need to broaden our viewpoints. We need to move from focusing on one area such as pediatrics or early childhood educator preparation to providing more intersectional support. Sheetal Singh, executive director of The Early Learning Lab, highlighted this need when sharing her first impressions of KnowledgeWorks and Capita’s forecast, Foundations for Flourishing Futures: A Look Ahead for Young Children and Families, during a recent webinar.
When we talk about the future, we talk about children. Too often, we do not recognize how the profound social, economic and technological changes underway will reshape their lives and our very understanding of what it means to be a child. Foundations for Flourishing Futures: A Look Ahead for Children and Families will help leaders across sectors navigate that gap, understand their own work in new ways and do their part to ensure that every child and family can flourish in the future.
We also need to lengthen our view to consider impacts across generations, said pediatrician, educator, and public health advocate Dipesh Navsaria, another panelist on the webinar. In turn, Vinny Badolato of Voqal spoke of renewing our focus on supports and relationships across the many domains affecting young children’s and families’ ability to flourish.
Looking to the future can help us broaden, lengthen and refocus our perspectives so that we identify new opportunities and challenges even as we remind ourselves of timeless needs. The future possibilities explored in the flourishing futures forecast range from a child-centered communities scorecard to a family-organized care co-op to a set of sensors that make it safe for young children to roam “freely” within designated boundaries.
Among the opportunities that such possibilities raised for the webinar panelists, the changing nature of work is opening new avenues for caregiving. As parents’ work schedules become more flexible with the spread of project-, task- and gig-based work, we can find new ways of accommodating variable schedules. With many jobs expected to be impacted by automation, we can also emphasize social-emotional skill development in early learning programs.
In addition, the increasing prevalence and power of data present new opportunities to discern insights into effective ways of supporting young children and families. To avail ourselves of that potential, we need to get past fears about who gets to see personal data and what happens to it. We also need to improve the quality of data, which are often hard to obtain or biased.
We also face opportunities and challenges related to technology and innovation. Despite good intentions, new approaches can miss the mark on what lies at the heart of early childhood development: stable relationships with caring adults. They also risk creating more inequities in our systems, especially if only certain groups do the innovating. Yet there can be a place for technologies to support people; for example, by fostering connections and communication among networks of parents who might not otherwise be able to share their experiences and perspectives.
As we work to break out of siloes and to broaden our perspectives on the many issues affecting young children’s and families’ ability to flourish, responsive caregiving could be a guiding force that would rally broad groups of stakeholders to improve outcomes for young children and families. The flourishing futures forecast emphasizes the enduring value of caring adults and recommends placing stability at the center of efforts to improve family life. Efforts to support young children and families need to tread thoughtfully in acknowledging different cultural perspectives on, and experiences of, parenting and child development. Yet we can work together to find fresh perspectives on helping children and families flourish.