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Growing Crisis in Child Care Focus of Nebraska Conference

Gov. Pillen to Speak at Statewide Conference on Early Childhood Education; 500 Community Leaders Come Together to Tackle Statewide Shortage of Early Childhood Programs

Kearney, Neb., Sept. 19, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- More than 500 civic, business, education, health care, and government leaders from 118 Nebraska communities and 15 states are gathering today in Kearney for the sixth annual Thriving Children, Families, and Communities Conference focused on the importance of quality early childhood care and education for children and families in Nebraska. Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen will provide opening remarks, marking the first time the state’s highest-ranking official will speak at the conference. 


At a time when 91% of counties in Nebraska do not have enough available licensed child care slots to meet current demand and 11 counties lack a single licensed provider, Nebraskans are coming together to help solve a growing child care and economic crisis.  

The conference will give attendees the opportunity to learn about quality early childhood education programs and services and their important role in economic development and community vitality. The keynote speaker is Dr. Walter Gilliam, executive director of the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska.  

In addition to the keynote, a panel will feature state and community leaders, including Brian Maher, Nebraska Commissioner of Education; K.C. Belitz, director of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development; Heath Mello, CEO and president of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce; Heidi Pieper, southwest regional manager at the Nebraska Farm Bureau; and Michelle Suarez, an early childhood advocate and retired principal.  

As a national expert in early childhood, Gilliam will talk about the impact that early learning has on the economy, and how the early childhood workforce is essential to the country’s economic recovery after the pandemic in his keynote titled, “All Roads Start With Child Care.” 

“In Nebraska today, 31% of parents with children under the age of 6—and 23% of all parents—said they have left the workforce because they were unable to find affordable child care,” said Gilliam. “With as many as 80,000 jobs open in Nebraska, our child care crisis is an economic crisis. Child care and the early childhood workforce who provides that care and education are vital infrastructure to our economy, as much as roads, bridges, and other vital supports that make the good life possible.” 

Sixteen breakout sessions will focus on topics including economic development and community vitality, early childhood research, innovative child care business models, programs, policy, communications, and outreach. We Care for Kids, a statewide campaign promoting the importance of quality and affordable early childhood education, will also be presenting at the conference. 

Attendance for the 2023 conference is more than double that of the inaugural 2018 conference and has attracted national attention. The growth demonstrates the importance of and increasing demand for quality early childhood care and education programs.  

This year’s event is coordinated and facilitated by the Buffett Early Childhood Institute and sponsored by First Five Nebraska, Nebraska Association for the Education of Young Children, the Nebraska Association of School Boards, Nebraska Business Development Center, Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Nebraska Children and Families Foundation, Nebraska Community Foundation, Nebraska Department of Economic Development, Nebraska Department of Education, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, the Nebraska Early Childhood Collaborative, Nebraska Early Learning Connection, Nebraska Economic Developers Association, Nebraska Extension, Panhandle Partnership, Inc., the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, and the Buffett Early Childhood Institute. 
 
For more information about the conference, visit thrivingchildrenconference.com/2023.  


Ally Freeman
Thriving Children, Families, and Communities
402-250-9901
afreeman11@nebraska.edu

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