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ODU Launches Virginia Early Childhood Policy Center

Photo of Early Childhood Policy Center directors Angela Eckhoff and Pete BakerEarly Childhood Policy Center directors Angela Eckhoff and Pete Baker

Old Dominion University's Darden College of Education this week launched the Virginia Early Childhood Policy Center (VECPC), whose mission will be to develop materials and conduct original research leading to positive changes in early childhood policy in the commonwealth.

The center, the only one of its kind in Virginia, will also provide useful information to parents, communities, schools and others directly involved with the well-being of young children. It is unique in the comprehensive approach it will bring to early childhood issues, one that will focus on education, health, family support services and special populations.

"This center will fill a critical role in the commonwealth of Virginia by collecting and sharing information regarding the current state of early childhood education, analyzing the trends in early childhood education and sharing this critical information with educational entities, legislators and educators," said President John R. Broderick. "The center is poised to support the development of emerging research in this field and to become the research repository for early childhood education in the commonwealth and beyond."

The need for such a center was demonstrated by the great work of Smart Beginnings, whose South Hampton Roads coalition will be closing at the end of September, and the center will further the efforts of organizations like the year-old advocacy group Elevate Early Education, or E3, Broderick added.

Leading the center as co-directors are Angela Eckhoff and Peter Baker, both faculty members in the Darden College's Department of Teaching and Learning.

"Our research shows that the commonwealth of Virginia significantly lacks systematic information about early childhood (birth to 5 years). This is problematic because children may not be receiving the services they need. Moreover, failing to receive services at an early stage of life exacerbates potential problems for individuals later in their life," said Eckhoff.

"Many of the services provided by the state and private organizations to meet needs related to early childhood have not been systematically evaluated, and many of those programs that have been evaluated have not shared their finding with the general public," she added. "Likewise, since many services are provided on a locality-by-locality basis, evaluations are often piecemeal and inconsistent. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there exists no repository or hub that provides stakeholders with comprehensive information about early childhood in Virginia."

The result is that lawmakers and the general public are often not well informed about the effectiveness of programs that are serving the state's youngest residents and their families, which in turn can have implications regarding public and private funding for services.

VECPC will generate a comprehensive report on the state of early childhood in Virginia by the end of this year, and announce the findings at a joint news conference with E3 next January in Richmond at the start of the General Assembly session.

The report will reflect a multidisciplinary effort, including representatives from several colleges within ODU, as well as faculty members from other Virginia universities.

"The report will focus on areas central to early childhood - education, family support services, special populations, and health and well-being," Baker explained. He noted that it will be designed to provide lawmakers, business leaders and other important stakeholders with "a user-friendly reference they can use to gain a holistic understanding of the state of early childhood in the commonwealth."

In her position as VECPC co-director, Eckhoff will take a lead role in securing additional funding for the center through external research proposals, advising and supporting graduate research assistants employed by the center, and coordinating qualitative components of the research and evaluation projects. Baker will be responsible for coordinating, reviewing and compiling the initial VECPC report and subsequent yearly white papers on the status of early childhood issues in Virginia. He will also provide quantitative research design, implementation and data analysis expertise to support the center's research activities.

The work of the center will represent an important component of ODU's civic engagement and economic growth goals, serving first to improve conditions for the state's youngest children and their families.

"In the long term, it will help bolster the state education system and economy by ensuring that our state's children are provided with appropriate support from the beginning of their lives so that they are successful K-12 students prepared for postsecondary education and the dynamic workforce that will await them after graduation," Eckhoff said.

In addition to evaluating the effectiveness of early childhood support mechanisms currently in place, the center will pinpoint areas of additional need, as well as areas in which there is a potential for cost savings.

Finally, the center will develop and maintain a Web-based early childhood resource center. The website will serve as a well-organized repository for reports and data from various reputable early childhood groups; host links to early childhood organizations' websites; and provide resources specifically designed for use by child care centers and home day care providers.

Startup funding for the Virginia Early Childhood Policy Center was provided by the ODU Perry Fund for the Study of Critical Issues, which supports the study of critical issues affecting the citizens of Hampton Roads, outlying regions and the commonwealth of Virginia.