Nebraska Children’s Vice President of Early Childhood Programs, Amy Bornemeier, once spoke to the Intergenerational Poverty Task Force about early childhood programs like Sixpence and their role in the task force’s goal of breaking the cycle of poverty. Her words still resonate today.
Amy’s message was one of empathy, inviting attendees to put themselves in the shoes of a parent who can’t make ends meet. Where would they find support? How would they know it was the right kind of support? And what if their only source of good information and support was in another county, city, or state?
It’s easy to see how living in poverty can perpetuate a cycle of children starting life further and further behind the curve compared to more affluent families. And that’s where the Sixpence Fund comes in.
Identifying the Problem
Science has shown that during the first 5 years of life, 700 neural connections are being formed every second, creating circuits that serve as the roadwork brainwaves will travel on for the rest of the child’s life. When those neural circuits are strong and robust, children are better able to acquire and master the skills they’ll need to thrive in school and in life. According to neuroscientists, the strength and resiliency of these connections depends on the quality of children’s early learning experiences. For example:
- Infants and toddlers who experience strong, loving relationships with adults and stimulating, supportive early environments are more likely to develop the foundational skills that support a lifetime of learning.
- At-risk children who lack quality early learning opportunities are more likely to begin school behind their peers developmentally, and remain behind throughout their time in the K-12 system. These children are statistically less likely to graduate from high school, and more likely to enter the criminal justice system later in life.
- Approximately 30,000 of Nebraska’s infants and toddlers are at-risk, meaning they live in households where parents struggle to provide consistent, high-quality learning experiences during this crucial developmental stage.
Building on what we knew about brain research and the opportunity gap, Nebraska state legislators did something innovative, something remarkable, and established the Sixpence Early Learning Fund in 2006.
Here’s how it works: Every $1 private contribution is matched by $2 from the public sector. That $3 investment is then matched by the local community that receives the grant, resulting in a $6 investment for every $1 of private donations. This public-private partnership is a sustainable model funded with $40 million from the state and an additional $20 million from the private sector. The earnings are used primarily for grants to school districts to provide high-quality early childhood services for infants and toddlers who are most at risk of school failure.
Sixpence in Action
A Sixpence program features both home- and center-based support for parents through a variety of methods:
- Proactive home visitation
- High-quality early childhood education
- Parenting classes and Circle of Security Parenting
- Community-based socialization and education opportunities
- Access to health services, including mental health
To qualify for the Sixpence program, children must be between the ages of birth to three years, with at least one of the following risk factors: low family income, premature birth or low birth weight, primary language other than English, teen and/or single parents, and additional risk factors as appropriate. You may access a comprehensive, up-to-date report on Sixpence’s outcomes here.
Individual Sixpence programs represent a strong partnership between school districts, early childhood service providers, and most importantly, parents of at-risk infants and toddlers. Sixpence funds support combinations of center-based child care, voluntary home visitation programs, and other services that are designed to strengthen the capacity of parents as their children’s first and most important teachers, individualized to the community’s needs.
Think of how much better children’s outcomes could be with these kinds of support systems in place for parents! That’s Sixpence’s goal – to lift up families struggling with generations of poverty and give them a chance to level the playing field for their kids, so that they can break the cycle of poverty that holds them back. And thanks to your help, outcomes are improving every day – but there’s always more to do.
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