Report finds gaps in funding, services for Kent Co. kids


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A new report shows large gaps in services and funding for young children in Kent County.

First Steps Kent will be releasing its annual report Thursday morning, but 24 Hour News 8 was able to get a first look at some of the findings.

It found 99 percent of 3 year olds in Kent County are not receiving preschool services, which the group claims is due to a $28 million gap in funding.

First Steps Kent officials will lay out exactly how they determined their numbers during a 10 a.m. news conference at Grand Rapids Community College’s Applied Technology Center.

>>Online: Re:Focus — A Gap Analysis of Early Childhood Services and Funding in Kent County (pdf)

Of the 44,500 children under five years old in Kent County, the report shows only 17,000 reportedly have public health insurance. The group defines public health insurance as health insurance found by government sources, including Medicaid and MiChild.

First Steps Kent hopes that by putting everything into perspective within this report will help close those gaps.

Claudia Jones works at one of the childcare centers that partners with First Steps Kent. As a preschool assistant instructor at the GRCC Early Childhood Learning Lab and a mother of three, she has seen the benefits of preschool.

“When they’re learning how to problem solve, when they’re learning how to explore the community, when they’re learning about the different cultures that are within our world,” she said. “I think it’s great.”

There are also health benefits as well. Jones’ class follows Michigan Food Program guidelines. Meals include a vegetable, protein, grain, fruit and milk.

“Last semester was edamame. (The kids) enjoyed eating edamame. This year it’s hummus. They enjoy hummus and cucumbers,” Jones told 24 Hour News 8.

Annemarie Valdez, CEO of First Steps Kent, said that more can be done to close gaps in health and development for children.

“Screening for developmental delays is very important and we don’t do enough of that,” Valdez told 24 Hour News 8 ahead of the Thursday news conference.

Money was also a major issue highlighted in the report. It found 20,500 children under 5 years old in Kent County are in economically disadvantaged home, which the group says doesn’t allow them to get two years of early education.

The report is expected to highlight inequality on a variety of issues from behavioral health to child care access.

“It’s a complete approach looking at children from a standpoint of health and development and education. So nothing in isolation, but everything working together to make sure children are prepared,” Valdez said.

Valdez said 150 Kent County community leaders were invited to the news conference, and she hopes it brings about change.

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