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Now Is The Time to Invest In Hawaii’s Children February 8, 2022

Now Is The Time to Invest In Hawaii’s Children February 8, 2022
Covid’s reach into all sectors of the state has highlighted a big weakness in the safety net.

Original story published on Honolulu Civil Beat’s Community Voice column on Feb. 7, 2022 by Shawn Kana‘iaupuni, Alfred L. Castle, Keala Peters, click here to read.

As we look forward to a new year filled with exciting opportunities, it is also important to take stock of the opportunities that were missed and how we can learn from them.

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Omicron’s surge has raised questions about whether Covid’s latest wave will be its last or just part of the “new normal.” Activities like spending time with family and enjoying the simple pleasures of walking on the beach or sharing a meal take on greater significance.

Covid-19 has left an indelible mark in Hawaii. More than 200,000 people have contracted coronavirus and, sadly, more than 1,200 have succumbed to the virus. It has impacted families across the islands and all businesses in immeasurable ways, from both a workforce and economic perspective.

Covid’s reach into all sectors of the state has also highlighted a tremendous weakness in our safety net, specifically as it relates to our keiki and ohana — in particular a lack of quality, affordable child care and inadequate resources to address both an increase in family violence and mental health needs.

To address this shortcoming, business leaders have joined forces with education, family support, philanthropic and mental health leaders to launch Commit to Keiki. This effort, directed at the gubernatorial campaigns now underway, seeks to underscore the importance of greater investments in early learning, child care, family violence prevention and mental health.

Medical technicians prepare COVID-19 tests, for sending to labs, at the Blaisdell drive-through testing site in Honolulu, Monday, December 27, 2021. (Ronen Zilberman photo Civil Beat)
Covid-19 exposed the fact that Hawaii lacks adequate investment in Hawaii’s families. Photo: Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2021

The public education campaign focuses on gubernatorial candidates and the importance of making early learning and child care more accessible, affordable and of higher quality. At the same time, Commit to Keiki will underscore the importance of investing in family violence prevention and mental health.

Covid exposed the fact that the lack of adequate investment in Hawaii’s keiki and ohana is not sustainable and hurts our children and families now and in the long-term. As parents get back to work, our keiki deserve priority attention, better education, greater funding and improved services to help them succeed.

Building Blocks

In a recently completed statewide survey, 74.5% of voters agreed that Hawaii’s next governor must invest more to create a system of high-quality, publicly funded, community-based child care, early learning and family support programs. Given that Hawaii ranks 43rd of 50 states, seventh from the bottom in its investments in children, it’s no surprise voters feel so strongly about their support.

Considerable research demonstrates the importance and the positive impact of early learning and family support programs, especially in the first five years of life — when a child’s brain absorbs knowledge and develops at its fastest rate. These programs represent building blocks for a better future.

According to recent data, Hawaii today can serve only about 25% of keiki ages birth to 5 in child care, which also impacts parents and caregivers’ ability to work. In addition, this research highlights that young children who are exposed to family violence are more likely to suffer from health-related problems, as well as academic and cognitive problems, delinquency, and involvement in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

“Covid-19 has left an indelible mark in Hawaii.”

The Commit to Keiki campaign intends to change this dynamic by working with all gubernatorial candidates and, ultimately, the state’s next governor to address the needs of our youngest keiki. The challenge is great and solving it won’t be easy.

All of Hawaii will benefit from investments in programs that help young keiki and their families. It’s an important and necessary effort to ensure parents have the ability to get back to work and make a living, and our keiki get the attention and programs they need to grow, develop and thrive while improving the wellbeing of our state’s diverse communities.

Anything less is unacceptable for Hawaii’s future.

Editor’s note: The authors are members of the Commit to Keiki steering committee, a non-partisan education initiative created by partners within the Early Childhood Action Strategy collaborative. Visit www.CommitToKeiki.org for more information.

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About the Authors

Shawn Kana‘iaupuni

Shawn Kana‘iaupuni is president and CEO of Partners in Development Foundation.

Alfred L. Castle

Alfred L. Castle is CEO of the Samuel N. and Mary Castle Foundation.

Keala Peters

Keala Peters is executive vice president of the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii.