Last year, I was honored to be asked by our Assistant Secretary to take on the role of the Director of ACF’s Office of Early Childhood Development (ECD). As the Director of the Office of Head Start, leading ECD was a chance to extend and strengthen ACF’s focus on young children and their families in new and different ways, and I welcomed this expanded role. I brought a small and mighty team together, and we quickly articulated our mission: ECD will act as a catalyst to create a collective impact and support the early learning and care of our nation’s children and their families. To accomplish our mission, we developed four key strategies on partnerships, collaboration, resource sharing, communications, and sustainability.
In the last twelve months, ECD has been working hard to meet our widely important goal (WIG) to be the “Go To” federal office for interagency and public-private partnerships that improve the early care and learning environments for children and their families. ECD is committed to engaging partners in meaningful ways and bringing unlikely partners together to push our thinking and engage in shared learning and shared action for shared impact.
We are grateful to all the federal and external partners who have joined us on this journey which is highlighted in our ECD Annual Report. In the past year ECD:
- Established the first-ever ACF Early Childhood Collaborative, comprised of 35 representatives from every ACF Program Office and identified ways to prioritize early childhood development across all programs. We highlighted current partnership opportunities and provide resources for states and communities.
- Hosted our first external partner event, Catalyzing Early Childhood: A Film Festival to Spark Action with over 80 national, state, and local leaders, researchers, philanthropy, parents, and federal staff working across multiple sectors.
- Led the Early Childhood Federal Partners Workgroup (staff-level) and Early Childhood Health and Well-being Federal Leadership Group with more than 70 representatives across more than 9 federal agencies and Departments. We come together to improve the collective impact of early childhood federal programs by supporting integrated early childhood systems that result in equitable health and well-being for young children and their families.
- Facilitated partnerships across ACF, HHS, and the White House to plan and implement ten regional Supporting Working Families Roundtables on Increasing Access to High-Quality Child Care during the fall of 2019. More than 900 participants attended the 10 Roundtables across the country – including parents, child care providers, employers, state, local, and tribal government officials, and early childhood stakeholders.
- Partnered with the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and ACF offices to host the first-ever showcase event on Innovations in Early Childhood Development and Learning at the 7th Annual ED Games Expo 2020. This partnership resulted in publishing a resource compilation Visit disclaimer page for early learning educators to support back-to-school and remote learning during COVID-19.
- Supported ACF’s COVID-19 response to address impacts on children’s services. ECD supported Save the Children's National Working Group on Emergency Child Care, which brought together more than 60 federal, national, state, and local leaders to identify promising solutions around the response to COVID-19.
- Co-hosted Believing in Communities and Families - The Power of Support with Casey Family Programs and the Early Childhood Funders Collaborative, which brought together more than 60 representatives from federal agencies, philanthropy, parents, and other early childhood leaders to strengthen families and the response to COVID-19 and beyond.
- Collaborated with the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, the Children’s Bureau and the Office of Child Care to issue a joint interagency letter to promote family strengthening and prevention strategies via virtual, electronic, telephonic, or other safe means during COVID-19 and beyond.
- Partnered with the Office of Child Care and the Department of Education to support the Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five Program. ECD published a synthesis report from the 2019 funded applications. Another synthesis report is forthcoming on states’ plans for supporting transitions to school from early childhood programs.
- Collaborated with ANA, other ACF offices, and the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco to launch the ACF Tribal Early Childhood Working Group which brought together tribal leaders, tribal stakeholders, and federal agencies to address ways to improve coordination of tribal early childhood programs.
We learned a couple of important things along the way. First, you can do a lot with a small and mighty team! We leveraged a lot of help from undergraduate and graduate student interns, ACF detailees from other offices, and federal and external partners who share a commitment to supporting young children and their families.
Looking ahead to the next year, we will continue to strengthen and deepen the partnerships we have established across ACF, HHS, and with other federal partners and external stakeholders. Our key focus in the coming year is to bring this work together and have parent voices lead the way to shift the thinking in early childhood transitions to school and the broader child and family serving systems through Radical Family Engagement. We hope you will join us for the next phase of our ECD journey!