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Improving Early Childhood Development

Federal & State Initiatives


Ms. Naomi Karp, Director, National Institute on Early Childhood Development and Education, Department of Education, Washington, DC.

Dr. Martha Moorehouse, Director, Children and Youth Policy Division, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), Washington, DC.

Ms. Helene Stebbins, Director of Children and Youth Policy, National Governors Association (NGA), Washington, DC.

Dr. Kim Townley, Executive Director, Governor's Office of Early Childhood Development, Frankfort, KY.

Ms. Anne Harnish, Assistant Director, Ohio Department of Health, Columbus, OH.

Multiple Federal and State programs and national initiatives play a critical role in improving early childhood development. Much of the support and focus on early childhood development has originated with education and childcare initiatives. Increasingly, these programs are examining early childhood development from a more comprehensive perspective and seeking linkages with the various agencies and providers that have an impact on shaping positive outcomes for children as they grow.

At the National Level

The National Institute on Early Childhood Development and Education, within the U.S. Department of Education, is focusing on improving the quality of early childhood programs so that children arrive at kindergarten prepared to succeed. Among the issues the Institute is addressing, according to Director Naomi Karp, are:

  • Adequate preparation of early childhood teachers.
  • Attention to language and literacy in early childhood programs.
  • Evidence-based curricula in early childhood programs that improve cognitive and language development.

Increasingly, Federal agencies and programs are focusing on the components of school readiness—cognition, literacy, social, emotional, and physical health—and how to promote initiatives and linkages that help children attain that goal. Selected examples of Federal initiatives, described by Dr. Moorehouse, include:

  • Healthy Child Care America Campaign, a partnership between the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), to promote health and safety of children in child care settings.
  • Comprehensive Early Childhood Services and Child Care, a collaborative between the Head Start and Child Care Bureaus to promote comprehensive early childhood services in Head Start programs.
  • Starting Early/Starting Smart (SESS), a collaboration between Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Casey Family Programs to provide integrated behavioral health services to young children up to age 7.

Several reports and findings on early childhood initiatives are available from Department of Health and Human Services' agencies and other Federal agencies, including:

At the State Level

The National Governors Association (NGA) is working with several States on early care and education initiatives that promote school readiness. Those initiatives can be divided into five categories, according to Helene Stebbins, Director of Children and Youth Policy at NGA:

  • Pure Pre-Kindergarten: usually consisting of public-private partnerships between State Education Departments and child care providers, targeting predominantly four-year olds.
  • Collaborative Preschool: usually coordination between Head Start, private child care, and State preschool programs, with Education as the lead agency, targeting low-income children.
  • Child Care: initiatives to improve the quality of care by addressing staff training, turnover rates, ratios, and salaries.
  • Parent Education: initiatives providing early childhood education and other supports to families.
  • Comprehensive care: a system of care for children through age 5 that usually combines local control and delivery of services with State oversight.

KIDS (Kentucky Invests in Developing Success) Now is a comprehensive early childhood development initiative in Kentucky with the goal that all young children in the State:

  • Be healthy and safe.
  • Possess the foundation that will enable school and personal success.
  • Live in strong families that are strengthened within their communities.

The initiative came about through a synergy of factors: the findings of current brain research, the importance of healthy children to economic development, the need to improve the early care and education system, and the poor health status of the state's children. Dr. Townley noted several reasons for the initiative's acceptance and success:

  • Broad representation of traditional and non-traditional entities in planning and implementation.
  • Partnerships with private sector organizations that are/will be affected by children who are ill prepared to be productive members of society.
  • Local grassroots involvement and advocacy.
  • Unequivocal support from the Governor.

Ohio's Help Me Grow is a birth to three initiative that joins five State agencies with an interest in children with local partners at the county level to provide a comprehensive system of service delivery for newborns, infants, toddlers, and their families. In an attempt to provide a less fragmented system of care, the initiative integrates three programs serving families of young children:

  • The Welcome Home Program.
  • Ohio Early Start Program.
  • Early Intervention Program.

The initiative charges county-based Family and Children First Councils with the administration of pooled funds for these programs. Despite the appeal of this seamless funding system, the approach can be challenging to agencies and programs that may lose their individual program identity and remain protective of their particular turf in serving children.

Similar to Kentucky's KIDS NOW, Help Me Grow has strong support from Ohio's Governor and First Lady, and this support has facilitated the program's priority status as a budget initiative, according to Anne Harnish of the Ohio Department of Health. Funding sources include:

  • Federal Part C Early Intervention Funds.
  • State General Revenue Funds.
  • TANF.
  • Other local funds.

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