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Profiles

Every Child Promise

Dana Carroll and Every Child Promise have taken on a huge mission—and it’s making a profound impact on local children and the community as a whole.

By Katie Pollock Estes | Photos by Kevin O'Riley

May 2014

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Dana Carroll is the Child Advocate for Every Child Promise,  a program that aims to reduce the number of local kids who are unprepared to start kindergarten.

Dana Carroll’s office is full. There’s a bookshelf packed with tomes. There’s a desk covered with papers and file folders. Her work is spread out around her, as all-encompassing in this physical space as it is in her life. Carroll is the Child Advocate for Every Child Promise, a community movement that aims to unify local people and organizations under the common mission of empowering families, so that every child from birth to age 6 has the opportunity to enter school ready to learn. It’s a project that’s simple in mission but enormous in its scope and importance to the Springfield community. Currently, one in five kids is ill-prepared to start school, and the implications of that continue throughout their lives.

To run such a project takes a wealth of knowledge, a passion for the well-being of children and the wisdom of someone who has truly gotten to know the community she serves. 

It also takes patience. Carroll knows this is not a problem that can be solved overnight, but she has a 10-year plan to make it happen.

 

The Details
Carroll identifies five key areas that need to be fostered in order for kids to be ready to start school. (You can read about them on p. 57.) Kids who are not prepared for kindergarten tend to lag behind their peers for their entire lives. Carroll says investing in children before age 6 can reduce the number of them who ultimately end up incarcerated or who drop out of high school. 

The first three-year phase of the 10-year strategic plan includes four pilot programs, with plans to implement more pilots once funding is established for them. The pilots are designed to prove to the community that Every Child Promise will truly impact local children in the ways they claim it will. “We need to show the community that what we’re trying to do is good for the kids and is the best way to invest early and get the biggest bang for our buck,” Carroll says. 

The pilots aim to create universal access to programs like Parents as Teachers; universal access to affordable, high-quality pre-kindergarten; creation of Every Child Promise Scholarship Assistance for child care and pre-kindergarten; and private partnership with Convoy of Hope to increase access to food for food-insecure children.

The ultimate goal: In 10 years, the organization would like to cut the number of children who are unprepared for kindergarten in half—from one in five to one in 10.

Carroll points out that she’s not trying to start new community programs. The good news is that Springfield already has many resources in place, such as Head Start, Parents as Teachers, church-based preschools, for-profit child care centers, Community Partnership of the Ozarks and many more. Instead, Every Child Promise aims to engage the people in the community who are already running these types of programs and get them involved and on-board with the mission. Carroll says she hopes to ask those organizations if they’d be willing to make small changes to what they already do and help measure the results.

 

Part of a Team
Carroll will be the first to tell you she’s not alone in thrusting this cause into the limelight. The Springfield News-Leader had been raising community awareness of local poverty issues in an ongoing series, and those stories prompted a call to action. The formation of an executive committee got the ball rolling, then Carroll was hired as Child Advocate last July.  Committees and community forums generated tons of input. “And I have a brain trust,” Carroll says. “A group of like-minded women who are all in early education.”

Early education is something Carroll knows a lot about. Before her involvement in Every Child Promise, she was the deputy director of early childhood at Community Partnership of the Ozarks for more than 14 years, served as director of a large daycare called UpTown Kids, and was director of the Parenting Life Skills Center. Originally from Kansas City, Carroll came to Springfield with her husband and five kids to pursue a child and family development degree at Missouri State University. Over the years, she has worked with the homeless, with abused children and with people with developmental disabilities or mental health issues. “I feel like I am in solidarity with them,” she says. “I have seen their struggles, and I want to make it better.”

Part of that ability to feel solidarity with the people she aims to help comes from her perspective on her own successes in life. “I didn’t do it on my own,” she says. “I worked hard. I knew someone who helped me get a job. There are people who help you or bet on you.” We’ll always have poverty, she says, until we can see how we’ve been helped and how we can help others.

“If we want a healthy community, a place that people flock to because of all that’s good about Springfield, then I know that this is what we need to do,” Carroll says. It’s all a part of her one big, overarching goal for Every Child Promise: She hopes it will become a community value that investing in children now is an investment in our future. “I’m body-and-soul committed to making this happen in our community,” Carroll says with teary eyes. And although she’s getting choked up, Carroll says she has nothing but optimism that this is the perfect time for people to band together and take action. “There’s so much hype right now,” she says. “It can’t be about the talk. It has to be about the do.”

 

Want to help?

To donate to Every Child Promise, go online to everychildpromise.org and click on “Donate Money” under the “Get Involved” tab. The link will take you to the Community Foundation of the Ozarks’ site, where you can make your donation.

 

The Breakdown

The Every Child Promise aims to ensure that all kids are ready for kindergarten by empowering parents and improving access to the support services they need to ready their children to learn. That means focusing on five key areas that impact a young child’s development.

The Every Child Promise aims to ensure that all kids are ready for kindergarten by empowering parents and improving access to the support services they need to ready their children to learn. That means focusing on five key areas that impact a young child’s development.

 

  Details Goal
Early Care

The period from prenatal care to age 3.

Studies have shown that as much as 90 percent of a child’s brain is developed by age 5.

Expand and support early child care programs.

Double the number of families using home-visiting services like Parents as Teachers.

Pre-Kindergarten

A key time for setting children up for lifelong learning.

Kids who are not prepared for kindergarten lag behind their peers throughout life.

Provide and support quality pre-kindergarten education.

Universal access to pre-kindergarten education within the Springfield Public Schools boundaries.

Safety & Security

Heavy reporting of abuse and neglect have identified safety and security problems.

Some parents might not be plugged into local resources that could help keep their kids safe.

Decrease the number of substantiated reports for abused and neglected children.

Food & Nutrition

More than 5,000 local kids are in families that are food insecure, meaning that at some point during the month they don’t have enough to eat.

Decrease food insecurity by increasing 

immediate access to nutritional food through:

• A partnership with Convoy of Hope
• Community food co-ops
• Community gardens
• Community kitchens

Health

Adequate healthcare starts at the prenatal stage.

Screenings for dental, vision, mental and behavioral health are helpful during early childhood to identify problems early.

Engage 50 percent of new and expectant mothers who are eligible to receive WIC services in zip codes 65802 and 65803.

 

By the Numbers

  • Currently 1 in 5 local kids is unprepared to start kindergarten.
  • As much as 90% of a child’s brain is developed by age 5.
  • Around 500 local children do not have access to affordable, high-quality pre-kindergarten education.
  • 5,200 children ages 0 to 5 live in families that are food-insecure.
  • There are more than 500 homeless students in the Springfield public school district.
  • The three-year pilot program has a $1.2 million budget.
  • The community has already committed more than $900,000 to the cause.
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