Right now, a strong case is being made for public investments in high-quality early childhood experiences for all children. The research is clear: The earliest years of a child's life are marked by rapid brain development, laying the foundation for future educational and life outcomes. High-quality early childhood opportunities benefit the children who participate in them, particularly those with the greatest needs and the greatest risk of being left behind. Society benefits through a substantial return on investments made.
As we work toward expanding access to quality early childhood experiences for all children, however, we must recognize that some children will need more intensive support systems than others. Programs must be designed so that they can meet the unique needs of children comprehensively. Children who are the poorest, struggling with disabilities, learning English as a second language, homeless, or in foster care often need an extra boost to meet their individual needs and keep them abreast of other children in early childhood settings.
The numbers and needs of these children will vary from classroom to classroom and program to program. But they must be considered and planned for as investments in early childhood are made and expanded. A snapshot of children with special needs tells us that:
- More than one in four children under age 5 — nearly 5 million — were poor in 2012; and nearly half were extremely poor, living in a family of four with an income of less than $11,925 per year;
- In 2011, more than 1 million children ages birth through 5 were identified as having disabilities or developmental delays, and were served by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act;
- During the 2011-2012 school year, children learning English as a second language represented 12 percent of children in public school preschool programs;
- More than one in three of the almost 400,000 children in foster care in FY2012 were under the age of 6.