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What to know about Missouri’s new Office of Childhood

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Gov. Mike Parson unveiled the new Office of Childhood this week, touting its focus on educating the next generation of Missourians and preparing them for the workforce.

“Missouri families deserve the best early childhood system our state can provide,” Parson told reporters Thursday. “This is also a critical area of workforce development for our state. We must see to it that the workforce of tomorrow starts off on the right foot, and that means better support for Missouri children and their families.”

The office will consolidate early childhood programs from the Departments of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), Health and Senior Services (DHSS), and Social Services (DSS). The transition is meant to streamline the state’s programs and create consistency and quality across the state. 

The new office will be housed under DESE and include programs related to early learning and intervention, home visiting, and child care. DESE Commissioner Margie Vandeven said the programs would bolster the education and development of the next generation of Missourians. 

“The early years of a child’s life are truly the foundation for lifelong learning,” Vandeven said. “We know that children enrolled in high-quality early learning programs achieve greater success in school and have improved health and lower crime rates as adults. To finish strong – with a capable future workforce – we must provide children with a strong start.”

“Safe, stable, and nurturing environments are essential to prevent child abuse and neglect in the early years of a child’s life,” DSS Acting Director Jennifer Tidball said. “Feeling safe allows young children to build strong relationships, be confident, and reach their full potential.”

The office will consist of 145 employees across the state. It was officially created by an executive order from Parson and is set to receive a $660 million budget for the 2022 fiscal year. The order will take effect on Aug. 28 unless the legislature disapproves it within 60 days. 

Parson announced the formation of the new office during Wednesday’s State of the State address as part of his focus on education and workforce development. Parson also committed to fully funding the state’s foundation formula and expanding broadband access as virtual learning becomes more prevalent across the country. Two recipients of the state’s Fast Track Workforce Incentive grant were recognized by Parson during the speech, as were two administrators from St. Louis-based early education center Unleashing Potential.