A New St. Louis Coalition Takes on Early Education

Three out of every 10 children in the St. Louis metro region live in areas where risks to their well-being are considered high or severe.

To protect these kids, hundreds of service organizations in St. Louis provide direct services, from prenatal care to child abuse prevention, to their families. Yet, as remarkable as their work is, there are still those kids who fall through the cracks, setting them on a dangerous path that can threaten both their futures and that of our communities.

Since 1991, Vision for Children at Risk (VCR) has provided data and information to organizations serving St. Louis’ more than 150,000 at-risk children. In addition, this nonprofit oversees the St. Louis Metropolitan Children’s Agenda, which has brought together more than 300 organizations to tackle the topics which most impact a child’s development.

Said Rich Patton, executive director for VCR, “The Children’s Agenda works with children service providers to make sure what we do for the community is done on the behalf of the kids. Through collaboration, we work together on strategic, not random, activities focused on what’s known to work for children. In that process, we leverage coordination in the community and increase funding to provide resources that meet kids’ needs.”

The impact of early education

The most recent Children’s Agenda collaboration is the new St. Louis Regional Early Childhood Council, which launched in February. Connecting more than 40 organizations, the Early Childhood Council will create a data system to track trends, identify gaps in service, solidify relationships with area businesses, and create collaborative strategies to build upon each agency’s strengths.

Unlike many of the areas with which we compare and compete, St. Louis and the state of Missouri – from both a policy and a funding standpoint – have not yet demonstrated strong, broad support for early childhood education according to Patton. The decline has grown so dismal that not one entity – not a nonprofit, not a government agency – can fix the problem on its own. When it comes to our children, it truly takes a village.

“Missouri and St. Louis are behind the game in early childhood development,” explained Patton.  “Other states and metro areas have been focused on early education for 10 years – Kansas City 20 years or more. There have been a lot of fragmented efforts, a lot of the parts of the puzzle missing when aligning early childhood with K-12.”

“We thought – can we come together, reduce the fragmentation and engage the business and civic community? It’s our attempt to do business better and more effectively. It’s really the last ditch effort to get in the game – to get St. Louis to compete with other metro areas in regards to improving the education of our children.”

It’s not only the policy side of education that needs revitalized, it’s how those programs are funded. Patton noted the game has changed. With Fortune 500 companies leaving St. Louis and the number of charitable foundations dwindling, St. Louis must battle against other metro areas to receive national funding – from funders who insist on collaboration between organizations.

Right now, more than 40 nonprofits, as well as representatives from the St. Louis County Economic Council and Mayor Slay’s Early Childhood Initiative, are on board to help. And the Early Childhood Council has a good history behind it – The Children’s Agenda’s collaborations have proved incredibly successful over the years. The St. Louis Maternal, Child and Family Health Coalition, for instance, was able to secure funding to help rid homes of lead and asbestos, address maternal mental health issues, and ensure immunizations for children in need.

Thanks to VCR, St. Louis will once again be seen as a city of organizations joining forces, not for their own gain, but for the overall gain of the region’s children. If your organization or business would like to get involved, contact VCR at 314-534-6015 or email [email protected]. You can also find data and information related to St. Louis children at www.visionforchildren.org.

By Nicole Plegge, Lifestyle Blogger for SmartParenting

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Metro East mom Nicole Plegge is the lifestyle and pop culture blogger for STL Parent. Besides working as a freelance writer & public relations specialist, and raising two daughters and a husband, Nicole's greatest achievements are finding her misplaced car keys each day and managing to leave the house in a stain-free shirt. Her biggest regret is never being accepted to the Eastland School for Girls. Follow Nicole on Twitter @STLWriterinIL 

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