The babies and young children of Memphis are the foundation on which the city’s future is built. Research demonstrates that when families thrive, children succeed, and communities flourish. However, many Memphis families with young children struggle to access the support they need to thrive:
Brain science has taught us that a child’s exposure to stress and trauma, beginning even while a baby is in the womb, creates negative physiological impacts that follow that child for life. The impact of these Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) have created an urgent need to connect mothers and caregivers, beginning in pregnancy, to an array of holistic supports that prevent costly public interventions later in life. Too few families are able to access these services, however.
COVID-19 impacted children’s mental health due in part to social isolation and disruptions in routines. The pandemic also exacerbated existing disparities in children’s mental health services.
Lack of access to quality child care has a negative impact on family financial stability and more broadly on the local economy. A recent statewide study found that there was an economic loss of $422.5 million in Shelby County last year due to insufficient child care.
All families should have access to high quality affordable Pre-K and early learning programs. While more children of preschool age are being served by expanded pre-K programs – which are key to school readiness – current funding levels aren’t sufficient to provide every child with a high-quality pre-K education.
Success in the early years of school is a primary predictor of lifetime achievement. Too many Memphis children are not achieving grade-level literacy at the end of third grade, a critical inflection point after which students transition to classes where reading is required but no longer taught. Many factors contribute to this, including family challenges (transportation, housing instability, food insecurity, etc.) that impact attendance.
JW Gibson grew up in Memphis in a tight knit family that was poor but valued education. He attended Memphis City Schools. Early in his career, JW worked with the United Way and observed up close the challenges that families face providing their children with foundational life skills and stability. As an entrepreneur, he understands the importance of job readiness (including literacy) in building a strong workforce for Memphis. Finally, JW’s tenure on the County Commission gave him a deeper understanding of the connection between early childhood education and the ability of Memphis and Shelby County Schools to prepare students for successful lives and careers.
JW believes that investing in our community’s youngest citizens is critical. In addition to better educational outcomes – such as high school graduation rate – research has shown that early childhood education positively affects incarceration rates, employment and wages, homeownership rates, and other quality of life measures, leveraging and amplifying the impact of funding for these programs. Strengthening Memphis’ early childhood infrastructure requires a comprehensive approach, built through collaborative partnerships with Shelby County, local nonprofits, the school system, and other stakeholders.
“We cannot progress as a city without investing in our children."
- JW Gibson
Here is a partial list of JW Gibson’s proposed strategies to enhance early childhood education:
Appoint an early childhood liaison in the City administration, to work with Shelby County government and the nonprofit sector to execute the community’s early childhood education strategy, and ensure that available city resources (in transportation, housing, nutrition, etc.) are identified and deployed to address early childhood needs.
Support the efforts of Next Memphis to work with childcare centers and family day homes to provide high quality care for children in all neighborhoods by providing funding and access to facilities.
Work with Shelby County government to convene community stakeholders on a strategy to improve pre-K quality through increased funding, and eventually to expand free pre-K to all families who need it – with the goal of universal access to pre-K.
Partner with Literacy Mid South’s Early Literacy Consortium to create and promote “literacy zones” in neighborhoods.
Promote the value of early learning and the availability of services through the City’s marketing and communication channels.
Provide grants to First 8 Memphis and other nonprofit organizations that are working to fund and strengthen the local early childhood infrastructure, as well those providing direct services to families.
Seek dedicated funding for youth mental health services, including from the Tennessee Mental Health Trust Fund.
Align City divisions who manage neighborhood-serving facilities, such as parks, libraries, community centers, etc., around expanding access and programming for infants and young children.