Points of View

Gaps in Kent County's Early Childhood Services

Sam Stebbins

First Steps Kent, a public-private partnership focused on early childhood services in Kent County, released a report last November called “Re:Focus—A Gap Analysis of Early Childhood Services and Funding in Kent County.” The report serves to analyze the support systems available to young children and their families and identify gaps in terms of the number of economically disadvantaged children who are not currently served.


Early Childhood Spending is a Good Investment

The report first explains that using funds to assist families and children early is a good investment overall. “The basic principles of neuroscience tell us that prevention and early intervention are more efficient and effective than remediation later in life,” the report states, as early support in health, education, and care:

  • Lowers special education costs,
  • Lowers crime and incarceration rates, and
  • Reduces welfare dependency later in life.

Additionally, research shows a 13% return on investment for quality early childhood education. In Michigan, the investment in early childhood programs of $1.4 billion over the past 25 years has saved over $1.1 billion in just one year.


Where are the Gaps in Early Childhood Services?

The report identified gaps in services in three categories: parenting education and family support, health, and early learning.


Parenting Education and Family Support

Home visits are one service that First Steps Kent identifies as underutilized. Of the target population, only 47% of families utilize this service. The report also identifies developmental screening as another service that would benefit young children and their families. Currently, there is no coordinated infrastructure for developmental screening in Kent County.



First Steps Kent explains that medical home support, a service in which health care providers and professionals form teams to support families, does not serve enough children. Currently, one third of children on Medicaid qualify and participate. First Steps Kent reports that if the program expanded to accept all children either on Medicaid or uninsured, the service could reach an additional 12,400 children.


There are also gaps in “infant mental health services” in Kent County. Currently, only an estimated 20% of the economically disadvantaged children who would qualify receive these services.


The report also calls for programming to address environmental health. A proposed project would screen the homes of 6,000 children annually for the presence of health hazards such as elevated lead levels.


Early Learning

In Michigan, public funding for preschool is only available for students starting at age four. Because of this lack in funding, 85% of children who would be eligible at age four are not in preschool when they are three.


Finally, there is a gap in child care in Kent County. Access to subsidies is only available to families at or below the federal poverty level. This puts a strain on working poor families near the ALICE threshold, who are unable to pay for quality child care and must leave the workforce or choose lower-cost (and, often, lower-quality) options. 

How can we help address the early childhood service gaps in Kent County and West Michigan as a whole? What do you think of First Steps’ report? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn