Start Early seeks to design, implement and sustain comprehensive early childhood systems that provide all children and their families with equitable access to an uninterrupted continuum of high-quality services from before birth through age 5. We define high-quality services as those that are culturally, linguistically and ability responsive and center parent and caregiver voice to ensure the service delivery system is accessible and responsive to community and family desires and needs.
Many early learning and care programs provide specific rights or priority enrollment status to children with certain circumstances, including children experiencing homelessness, children involved in the child welfare system and children with disabilities. Although these “priority populations” have long been recognized as such for early childhood programs, they remain underserved in early learning and care programs. We do this work with a recognition that not only are priority populations underserved, but members of priority populations who are also people of color face multiple systemic barriers that must be addressed to ensure equitable access to services.
We seek to close the opportunity gap for children from priority populations and their families by ensuring. that all early learning and care programs and services are designed and resourced to ensure equitable access for all children. This can be advanced through increased investment, cross-program and interagency collaboration and new research about the barriers to access experienced by these populations.
Strong early childhood systems are reflective of the full spectrum of a child’s development and provide all young children with equitable, responsive and inclusive access to healthcare, nutrition, mental health services, early learning and family supports. Start Early believes the federal early childhood system can act as a facilitator of strong, equitable systems and infrastructure at the state and community levels. Additionally, state systems and infrastructure must be designed and implemented based on data from the field, engagement and influence from families, particularly families of color, and policy-practice feedback loops that inform equitable improvements and funding decisions.
Equitable, comprehensive and responsive systems development and infrastructure can be accomplished through:
- Investment in early childhood — beyond federally required maintenance of effort and match — to ensure sufficient infrastructure capacity and to tailor programs and services that are responsive to the unique needs of families with young children in the state.
- Establishment of governance structures and feedback loops at all levels that allow a diverse group of stakeholders to share in the design and implementation of early childhood systems.
- Eliminating fragmentation throughout the early childhood system, starting at the federal level down to the local level, so that families experiencing the most hardships can easily access the early childhood service they need. We must promote interagency and inter-program coordination and alignment at all levels and facilitate strong transitions and consistent community connections for children and families from the prenatal-to-age-5 early childhood system into the early grades.
Research-Program Partnerships are structures that fully integrate research into early learning and care programs, ensuring data can inform program development, implementation and program improvement to achieve positive outcomes at scale. The partnerships support effective implementation and change in practice, accelerate innovation within early childhood fields and have the potential to create critical bi-directional feedback loops with practitioners and families.
Our Research-Program Partnership recommendations include:
- Ensure early childhood funding streams provide support and incentives for the use of research in decision making at multiple levels.
- Support state early childhood agencies and community-based programs in creating formal research partnerships.
- Align and improve state data systems across early childhood programs and services to support research-program partnerships and data-driven decision making.
For detailed community, state and federal recommendations, see our full Policy Agenda.
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