HARTFORD, CT — David Wilkinson, who most recently served as director of the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation under President Barack Obama, isn’t concerned about taking a job that might only last 21 months.
Wilkinson, 39, was nominated Thursday to head the Office of Early Childhood, which was created four years ago by Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
Malloy announced just last week he wasn’t going to be seeking re-election.
But that didn’t bother Wilkinson who seemed more than excited at a Capitol press conference to move to Hartford and take the job.
The job seems like a perfect fit too given Wilkinson’s upbringing in Richmond, VA.
During the press conference Thursday, Wilkinson said his mother was a single teenage mom who worked long hours for low wages.
He said they relied on public support like food stamps and often went without heat in a series of different living accommodations. But his mother drove 45 minutes each way to keep him in a “good quality daycare program.”
“A few bad breaks … all could have thrown off my life outcomes and hers all too easily,” Wilkinson said.
He said “the line between hope and giving up is all too narrow,” for many families. It’s with that background that he steps into what is one of the biggest budget challenges the state faces.
Wilkinson will have to figure out how the state is able to serve more children through a federal and state childcare subsidy program called Care4Kids. The $122 million program, which helps subsidize quality daycare programs for working families, faces many challenges.
Last year, the federal government changed its requirements and required states to keep children enrolled in the program longer, but without more resources. That meant Connecticut was forced to close the program to new families and keep enrollment closed for certain populations. In the past, allowing children to churn in and out of the program had given the state a financial cushion.
The program is one of a handful, which is running a deficiency in the current fiscal year.
Over the next year, the changes to the program precipitated by the federal government means 5,000 to 8,000 children could lose their childcare, which means parents will be forced to make some tough decisions that could have dire consequences.
Without reliable child care these children will be “pushed into unregulated care,” Merrill Gay, executive director of the Early Childhood Alliance, has said.
The consequences of leaving a child with a person who is not qualified could be deadly and “too horrible to fathom,” Gay has said.
“We will certainly be as creative as we can to serve as many children and families as we can,” Wilkinson said. “I look forward to diving in and tackling that challenge.”
Wilkinson said his job at the White House was to determine how to spend about $800 billion in social services smarter.
“There is no state that is more innovation, that is more creative, more dedicated to efficiently serving its citizens than the state of Connecticut under Gov. Malloy,” Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson said it’s “amazing” what the Obama was administration was able to get done in its final months, and he sees many parallels between that administration and Malloy’s administration.
“I know we can get a lot done,” Wilkinson said.