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Early Childhood Action Plans – Transylvania County

Written by: Lea Efird

Families in Transylvania County and the surrounding area benefit from the work of Get Set Transylvania. With a high concentration of resources and strong support network for young children, the initiative encouraged some families, like that of Kadie Sanders, to move there after driving over one hour for a year to take advantage of the programming.



The Challenge

Children in North Carolina often face complex challenges, with 23% of the state’s more than 700,000 children under age six living in poverty. In order to overcome these challenges, North Carolina created an Early Childhood Action Plan through the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). The action plan addresses issues facing North Carolina’s children in three general goal areas: healthy, safe and nurtured, and learning/ready to succeed. North Carolina has the 11th highest infant mortality rate in the nation, with African-American infant mortality rates twice as high as those of white infants in the state. More than 1 in 5 children in North Carolina are food insecure, 1 in 28 under the age of six are homeless, and less than half of children eligible are enrolled in NC Pre-K. Interrelated issues of poverty, health, food security, housing, and education negatively affect young children across the state.

Addressing the needs of this age group is particularly important because “early environment has a lasting impact on the development and life of each child and is also a factor in that child’s future economic success,” which impacts community economic success. These problems are particularly difficult to address in communities that are rural or under-resourced, such as Transylvania County. In 2015, local residents raised concerns with government officials about the lack of childcare and kindergarten readiness in the community. In response to these concerns, the Early Childhood Initiative (ECI) Task Force conducted a State of the Young Child study and reported on areas of need for children ages birth to 5 in Transylvania County. Among those needs were childcare or preschool, food, housing, health insurance, dental healthcare, and substance-related healthcare. This needs assessment led to strategies implemented and in 2018 ECI rebranded to become Get Set Transylvania.

 Source: Early Childhood Iniative State of the Young Child Report.

The Solution

Get Set Transylvania is a collaboration of community partners working to improve support systems for children in Transylvania County. The Get Set website pulls together resources to facilitate parents and caregivers’ access to a variety of programs and services for children. In 2018, Transylvania County was chosen to become a Sesame Street Community, the first rural county in the nation to do so. Sesame Street in Communities partners with Get Set Transylvania to improve access to tools and resources, including storybooks, videos, and training to help children navigate challenges, as well as professional development resources for program providers. They also partnered with community care providers to create a community resources directory and various toolkits for the areas of need identified in the 2015 report.

The program also led to the creation of new services in Transylvania County to serve the needs of special populations identified in the report, including children born addicted to substances, which was seven times higher in Transylvania County than the state average. This data allowed healthcare providers to prioritize screening pregnant women for substance use, helping them receive treatment within the county, and monitoring and treating newborns for neonatal substance dependency. These strategies reduced this alarming rate by half in just the first year. Get Set Transylvania also assisted the county in expanding their Pre-K programs and creating free learning events through the library and parks and recreation department to improve school readiness and physical wellbeing, other areas of concern identified by the State of the Child report.

The Players

Get Set Transylvania includes representatives from many local organizations, including: Transylvania County Board of Commissioners and Administration, Transylvania Children’s Advocacy Center, New Adventure Learning Center, Mountain Sun Community School, Smart Start of Transylvania County, Transylvania County Schools, Pisgah Collective, The Family Place of Transylvania County, Western Carolina Community Action, Transylvania County Library, Children’s Developmental Services Agency of WNC, Transylvania Public Health, SAFE, Inc. of Transylvania County, Transylvania County Parks and Recreation, and the Foster Grandparent Program at Land of Sky Regional Council. The collaborative also partners with Sesame Street in Communities for expanded funding and resources. The support of government, private providers, and nonprofits is key to the success of Get Set Transylvania and its wide array of services in the local community.

 

The Promise

Families in Transylvania County and the surrounding area benefit from the work of Get Set Transylvania. With a high concentration of resources and strong support network for young children, the initiative encouraged some families, like that of Kadie Sanders, to move there after driving over one hour for a year to take advantage of the programming. “They have a great reputation for raising families,” Sanders said, “so we [decided] yeah, we need to be here.” Get Set Transylvania programs are not just benefiting children; the parent education and support networks provided by the initiative, like monthly dinners with discussion topics such as the influence of mental health on parenting, allow caregivers to strengthen their knowledge and skills as well.

As for the program’s benefit for the wider community, County Manager Jaime Laughter says that their  focus on early childhood is not just a humanitarian issue, but also a socioeconomic one: “Twenty years from now… we’ll be relying on the children of today to be our leaders, our policy developers, and our workforce that’s making our economy chug along. That means that every single child matters to every single adult, which may be different than perceptions that we’ve had in the past.” She cites the nation’s falling birth rate as further evidence that investment in young children now is key to the success of communities, especially rural ones, in the future. Get Set Transylvania’s model of collaboration, data gathering, and expansion of both family education resources and new programming has been highly effective for their community. Rural communities, although often dealing with complex issues around poverty, employment, education, and transportation, can use their collaborative model to address a cross-cutting local issue like early child development.

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