For more than 22 years, the West Virginia KIDS COUNT Fund has played a leading role in West Virginia’s efforts to make our state a better place for kids. But, the organization’s history really began in the late 1980s, when the West Virginia Human Resource Association published a landmark study of the plight of West Virginia’s children. The report was called Children in Crisis, and it detailed the serious issues facing children and families in West Virginia. Then-gubernatorial candidate Gaston Caperton saw the report; took up the cause of at-risk children; and promised, if elected, he would lead the charge to improve the lives of children in West Virginia. Upon taking office in 1989, Governor Caperton honored his commitment appointed a group of prominent business, religious and labor leaders to study the issues facing at-risk children and make recommendations for improving their lives.
For the next several months, the Governor’s Task Force on Children, Youth and Families traveled throughout West Virginia, meeting with families and children and talking directly with the providers of children’s services. Their 1989 report to the Governor recommended improvements in child abuse prevention and treatment; early education and care; and services to teens, as well as a reorganization of government agencies to better coordinate services to children. The Task Force also recognized that improving the lives of children would require the support and creativity of the private sector. So, in 1990, Dee Caperton and Lawson Hamilton, the co-leaders of the Governor’s Task Force, established a not-for-profit corporation, The Task Force on Children Youth and Families, to address the needs of children. The Task Force’s first project was DAY ONE, an early intervention and prevention program for new parents. The second initiative was KIDS COUNT, a nationwide project funded by the Annie E. Casey foundation to publish annual, statewide “data books” to educate the public and policymakers about the needs and conditions of children.
In 1995, the Task Force on Children, Youth and Families changed its name to the West Virginia KIDS COUNT Fund. The name change signified the organization’s commitment to a sustained effort on behalf of West Virginia’s children and a private partnership to support the mission of the Governor’s Cabinet on Children, Youth and Families. In addition to publishing the annual West Virginia KIDS COUNT Data Book since 1991, KIDS COUNT’s recent work has been focused on improving the quality of early child development programs. The organization has played a major role in the development of standards for West Virginia’s pre-kindergarten (pre-k) program ; fought to save the pre-k program from legislative cuts; studied the importance of early literacy; educated business leaders about the economic impact of ECD programs, launched a multi-county campaign to improve early literacy practices, and spearheaded a new effort to improve the quality of West Virginia’s ECD system.
Specifically, since 2006, KIDS COUNT has been leading an effort to lay the policy framework for high-quality childcare programs in West Virginia. In 2006, KIDS COUNT, in partnership with the Partners Implementing an Early Care and Education System (PIECES) and West Virginia: A Vision Shared, documented the existing ECD system, assessed the political environment and educated business leaders and parents about the importance of high-quality ECD programs.
In 2007, KIDS COUNT, in partnership with PIECES and West Virginia: A Vision Shared, lead an effort to establish ECD policy priorities, build broad public support for ECD programs and advocate for comprehensive legislation to improve ECD quality. In 2008, KIDS COUNT launched a groundbreaking grassroots campaign, called the Kids First Communities Campaign, to build support among parents, childcare providers and community leaders for new public investments to improve the quality of childcare. KIDS COUNT provided seed money and technical assistance to six non-profit organizations in Beckley, Charleston, Huntington, Morgantown, Parkersburg and Wheeling. These “Kids First Leaders” successfully educated, organized and mobilized parents, childcare providers and community leaders in support of a childcare quality rating and improvement system (QRIS).
KIDS COUNT’s grassroots efforts led directly to the passage of the QRIS legislation during the closing minutes of the 2009 legislative session. Unfortunately, the legislation did not have the funding necessary to launch the program and KIDS COUNT is continuing to advocate for the funding necessary to get the system up and running.
As an outgrowth of the Kids First Communities Campaign, KIDS COUNT also created an annual event which celebrates the important work of West Virginia’s childcare providers called Take a Flower to Childcare Day. The celebration’s purpose is to raise awareness about the important role high-quality childcare plays in the healthy development of young children and the economic future of West Virginia. The 2011 celebration, which marked the program’s fourth consecutive year, has earned consistent praise from childcare providers and parents, as well as widespread media coverage about the importance of high-quality childcare.
Finally, in 2009, KIDS COUNT launched a new project, called Business on Board with Childcare!, to recognize West Virginia businesses that support their employees’ childcare needs. In the first three years of the program, KIDS COUNT has identified and honored 164 West Virginia businesses that are “childcare friendly.” The winners are recognized at an annual, sold-out awards luncheon that raises money to support KIDS COUNT’s mission to make West Virginia a great place to be a kid.