A recent study has reminded me once again of the power of speaking directly to stakeholders.
This winter, APCO Insight surveyed low-income U.S. families with children under six years of age to inform hunger-fighting strategies among this population. The problem is clear – the USDA’s Economic Research Service estimates that 13 million children in America struggle with hunger and a growing number of studies show hunger experienced early in life can have serious consequences for a child's development.
The big discovery? That most children in this age group are at home. In fact, only 27 percent of families surveyed are using out-of-home child care like preschool or daycare in the typical week.
Why is that important? Well, like with all good strategies, we need to meet people where they are. In the past, there has been a focus among those fighting hunger in early childhood on programs that help accredited child care provide free and reduced price meals. Our results show, however, that these efforts aren’t reaching the vast majority of low-income families with young children today. Indeed, about three in four families would be better served by bringing support into their homes.
To be clear, this is not to say we should do away with programs that provide free or reduced price meals in daycare. These programs are a valuable resource for many families – our survey shows that more than nine in ten families who have participated say the programs have helped them. Moreover, many families want better access to out-of-home child care – more than half of all families surveyed say they would like their child to attend preschool or day care if they could afford it.
Thus, we are left with two key recommendations for those fighting hunger in early childhood:
- In the short-term, focus on directing support to where most young children are – in families’ homes. Some ways to do this include support for federal programs like Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Federal Home Visiting as well as through nutrition and financial literacy education.
- In the long-term, work to increase access to quality, affordable child care to provide support to these struggling families.
This is a great example of how organizations, regardless of sector, can bring clarity to their challenges by researching and amplifying the voices of their stakeholders – whether they be customers, employees, thought leaders or underserved populations.