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story.lead_photo.caption Gov. Mike Parson waves to senators Wednesday as he enters the Senate Chambers to give his State of the State Address. Parson announced the new Office of Childhood during his 2021 address. Photo by Liv Paggiarino / Fulton Sun.

Missouri's new Office of Childhood, which will consolidate nearly all early childhood programs across the state, is planned to take effect in August.

Gov. Mike Parson announced the new Office of Childhood on Wednesday during his 2021 State of the State Address.

This office will be housed by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and will include almost all early childhood programs related to child care, home visiting, early learning and early intervention across DESE, the Department of Health and Senior Services, and the Department of Social Services.

"This consolidation will provide a more comprehensive and streamlined approach to early childhood development in the state of Missouri," Parson said during a news conference Thursday. "This new office waill also provide all Missouri children and families with better, more consistent access to quality programs and services."

Parson signed Executive Order 21-01 on Wednesday, officially establishing the new office, which will take effect Aug. 28 unless disapproved by the state Legislature within 60 days.

The Office of Childhood will have about 145 employees, and no state employee positions will be eliminated.

Current funding will remain unchanged for the programs involved and for private child care providers and public schools. The office's estimated budget for fiscal year 2022 is about $660 million, according to a news release from Parson's office.

"Our children are the workforce of tomorrow, and if we're truly to make a difference in their lives, it starts with early childhood development," Parson said.

Document: Executive Order 21-02

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Parson said he has visited many child care centers across the state throughout his administration and has received valuable feedback from child care providers, educators, families, child advocates and state government leaders.

"It became clear that our current approach is fragmented across multiple agencies and must be addressed," he said.

The top priority for the Office of Childhood is "ensuring Missouri's children are safe, healthy and successful learners," according to the news release.

The Office of Childhood will provide a great opportunity for families eligible for child care subsidy and child care providers accepting subsidy "to gain additional instructional support and access to care," DSS Acting Director Jennifer Tidball said.

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

Early childhood has been a long-standing priority for the State Board of Education, Commissioner of Education Margie Vandeven said.

"This office will continue to focus on all three of these priorities and perspectives: safety, health and education — and truly focus on the whole child," she said.

For more information on the Office of Childhood, visit earlyconnections.mo.gov/who-we-are/new-office-childhood.

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