Smart Beginnings NRV, a program of the New River Valley Regional Commission, recently completed the 2018 NRV Early Childhood Regional Assessment. The Regional Assessment, which was funded by the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation (VECF), provides the data needed to fully harness federal and state resources for early childhood and support strategic local investment in early childhood success.


There are about 10,000 children ages birth to five living in the New River Valley. What if all 10,000 children could get a great start in life? Ages 0-5 are the most crucial to brain development with over 1 million neural connections made every second during these years.

Children who receive quality early education are more likely to enter school ready to learn, read at grade level, experience less frustration and stay in school, graduate from high school, enter higher education and the workforce. Also, their own children are more likely to follow this path breaking generational poverty cycles.

Extensive research has revealed returns of $13 for every $1 invested ( in early childhood programs due to reduced welfare and crime costs, as well as increased earnings and tax revenues later in life. Investing in our youngest citizens will help our region reach its full potential.

The Regional Assessment explores the outcomes of the current early childhood system, the risk factors influencing these outcomes, the early childhood services currently available, as well as service gaps and challenges by locality. Currently, only 33% of NRV children ages birth to five are participating in early care and education programs.

In the 2018-19 academic year, over 18% of children entering kindergarten in the NRV failed the PALS-K school readiness assessment. Three localities had fail-rates over 20%. These same localities have the largest early care and education capacity gaps (no placements for over 75% of young children). NRV school divisions are doing a commendable job keeping children on track, but the children who enter kindergarten “behind” often never catch-up – their fate is determined by age 5. Disadvantaged children are more likely to enter kindergarten behind.

Major service gaps and challenges identified in the Regional Assessment include:

the early childhood workforce crisis – severe shortage of qualified early educators that is primarily due to poverty-level wages (median rate is about $10 per hour)
locality-specific childcare deserts – severe shortage in quality early care and education opportunities for children ages birth to five in Floyd, Giles, and Pulaski
regionwide infant/toddler capacity gaps – severe shortage in placements for children ages birth to two in both private and public sector programs
parent/caregiver awareness of available services and resources
community awareness of the importance of investing in early childhood programs
parent mental health and substance abuse issues prevent many children from thriving

Check out the 2018 NRV Early Childhood Regional Assessment to learn more –

What’s Next?

Last September, VECF awarded Smart Beginnings NRV a $60,000 Innovative Partnerships grant to build on the Early Childhood Regional Assessment and create a collaborative School Readiness Strategic Plan that aligns community efforts and drives investment.

In December, VECF also awarded Smart Beginnings NRV a two-year $250,000 Mixed Delivery grant to field-test strategies and solutions to help more children access high quality preschool through cross-sector collaboration. Three organizations will collaboratively lead the Mixed Delivery project – Smart Beginnings NRV, the Alliance for Better Childcare Strategies (ABCs), and Virginia Quality.

The NRV’s Mixed Delivery project will enhance early education throughout the region via preschool teacher professional development. The project will also connect private childcare centers with comprehensive community services to better support healthy development of “the whole child” and help families access the services they need to thrive.

The NRV is equipped with data to support strategic investment in early childhood programs. If government, businesses, community leaders, and philanthropists come together, we can make a measurable impact and establish the NRV as a national leader in early childhood success.
For further information or to get involved, contact Meghan Pfleiderer

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