The first three years of a child's life determine how well they will read and learn for years to come, which is why day care services need to improve in West Virginia, according to the leader of one organization.
Margie Hale, executive director of West Virginia Kids Count, told Wheeling Rotary Club members Tuesday that only 8 percent of day cares in West Virginia are nationally accredited. And because working parents often rely on day care services to not only care for but also to teach and nurture their children, it is important that those services improve.
During their first three years of life, children need love, talk, rhyme, reading and play, Hale said.
''Those are the building blocks of life,'' she said. ''The love, talking and rhyming begins at birth. Those are things that build brain development. Eighty percent of brain development happens by age 3.''
Hale said Kids Count in 2009 recommended a Childcare Quality and Improvement Rating System be developed for day cares in the state. Though the endeavor has yet to receive state funding, she believes a governor's task force is looking into it. According to a study by Marshall University, developing such a system would cost about $82 million over five years, she said.
Hale said good day care services can improve a child's ability to read and learn later.
''West Virginia's national rank in fourth grade reading proficiency is 40th worst,'' she said. ''Why is it one of West Virginia's most important challenges? Up until the third grade you are learning to read. By the end of third grade you are reading to learn. If you don't know how to do that, it's a real serious issue and a predictor of you dropping out of school.''
She noted most West Virginia child care is rated fair to poor.
''The reason it's poor to fair is that no provider could charge what quality costs because no parent could afford it,'' she said.
According to Marshall University's study, for every $1 invested into quality day care there would be a $5.20 return, Hale said.
''The investments need to be made in the first three years of life, and that is where the least investment occurs,'' she said.