Catalyzing action among early childhood federal partners has been a key focus of our work in 2020. Building on longstanding federal collaborative efforts over the years, ACF’s Office of Early Childhood Development convened the Early Childhood Health and Well-being Federal Leadership Group in 2020. This group is made up of almost two dozen political and career leaders from across the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Education along with other federal agencies. These leaders eagerly came together to focus on improving outcomes for young children and their families. We agreed on a shared goal: to improve the collective impact of early childhood federal programs by supporting integrated early childhood systems that improve the effectiveness and efficiency of services and result in equitable health and well-being for young children and their families.
During several productive conversations, we committed to collaboration that focuses on results and created an Early Childhood Federal Partners Logic Model as an overarching framework. To focus our shared actions in the short-term, we identified three areas for shared learning that reflected the issues, opportunities, and challenges that we’ve heard from our grantees and stakeholders, including areas of immediate need during the pandemic. These areas of focus were identified as having significant potential to catalyze and sustain collaborative efforts if advanced meaningfully over the long term. We leveraged the Early Childhood Federal Partners Workgroup, a longstanding group of federal career staff from multiple federal agencies and offices to co-lead subgroups. A summary of work and initial insights from each subgroup is listed below:
- Technical Assistance in response to COVID-19 - Across our federal agencies, we released guidance documents for programs that we administer. Our technical assistance centers developed resources and tools that early childhood programs and service systems, providers and teachers, and families could use to support remote service delivery or safe in-person care and education for young children and their families. These resources have been pulled together and will be available soon in one location on the Office of Early Childhood Development website.
- Needs Assessments - Many early childhood programs require needs assessments to gather information that will inform services. Greater alignment and coordination across needs assessments has the potential to improve program and system efficiencies. This can reduce grantee burden, and support programs in responding to the unique strengths and needs of their communities. Our initial analysis revealed that while many needs assessments across programs share similar goals and focus areas, we need to better understand differences in data definitions, level of focus (program, community, state, or system), timing of needs assessments, and degree of family and community engagement. We will continue to explore opportunities to advance the coordination and alignment of needs assessments to build a stronger collective focus on early childhood health and family well-being.
- Outcomes and Performance Measures - Federal early childhood programs are funded based on legislative authorities, which outline specific purposes, target populations, and focus on different aspects of the early childhood system. These programs collectively represent an opportunity to strengthen many critical outcomes for young children and their families. We have begun to explore performance measures and outcomes of the various federal early childhood programs together in the last few months. Despite the variation in how programs define and use performance measures and outcomes, there are opportunities for articulating cross program connections in a coherent manner. We will continue to explore opportunities to further examine our early childhood program performance measures and outcomes and identify opportunities for alignment of outcome measures across programs.
We know that more work is needed to strengthen collaborative efforts across federal agencies and other partners that prioritize early childhood health, development, early learning, and social and economic well-being for children and families. Meeting the needs of young children and families across our programs and agencies requires a multilevel strategy that creates and maintains strategic connections across leadership and staff, policy, research, program administration, and technical assistance. Parent, family, and community engagement strategies must also be used to foster and sustain these connections across multiple levels of our early childhood systems. We look forward to continuing as federal partners to learn from prior work, generate new knowledge, and use that information for ongoing learning to improve the health and well-being of our nation’s young children and their families.
Signed by Early Childhood Health and Well-being Federal Leadership Group, including:
- Dr. Deborah Bergeron, Director, Office of Head Start and Early Childhood Development, ACF
- Ms. Jennifer Burnszynski, Associate Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation
- Ms. Shannon Christian, Director, Office of Child Care, ACF
- Dr. Jerry Milner, Associate Commissioner, Children’s Bureau, ACF
- Dr. Karen Remley, Director, National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, CDC
- Dr. Michael Warren, Associate Administrator, Maternal and Child Health Bureau, Health Resources Services Administration
Dept. of Education’s
- Ms. Ruth Ryder, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of Policy and Programs; Formula Grants, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education
- Dr. Laurie VanderPloeg, Director, Office of Special Education Programs, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services