Hundreds of early child care providers gathered at eight locations across the state Saturday.

The goal of the Oklahoma Partnership for School Success conference is to equip providers with skills like trauma-informed care. Studies show 65 percent of Oklahoma children have had at least one adverse childhood experience.

“Those first five years are so critical,” OPSR Executive Director Debra Andersen said.

Oklahoma emerged as a leader in early childhood care in the late 1990s with a universal preschool program and statewide home visits. It's that work OPSR wants to continue.

“Children who have not had good early learning experiences during their first five years come to kindergarten so much less prepared than children who have,” Andersen said. “They are starting out behind, and that gap only widens as they progress though the early school years.”

Around 1,000 child care providers attended the trainings in Ada, Durant, Enid, Lawton, Norman, Tahlequah, Thackerville and Tulsa, where they learned how to better care for children who may be behind.

“If a child experiences maltreatment before they are 18, they are more likely to smoke and consume alcohol, abuse substances. It’s also been linked to increased homelessness and lack of job security,” conference presenter Amy Huffer said.

For teachers in classrooms with students who may struggle academically or socially, Huffer said the conference also offers support from fellow providers.

“It’s hard to work with kids from hard places, because it breaks our heart,” she said.