Colorado Department of Human Services

Colorado Department of Human Services

Summary:

Background

The purpose of CO’s project, Partners in Early Childhood Education Services (PIECES), which ran through 2015, was to support children 0 to 5 involved with the child welfare system through increased state-level coordination and collaboration across early childhood and child welfare organizations and build capacity in three county-level grantees to increase children’s access to early intervention, Early Head Start, Head Start, and quality child care. PIECES also served to introduce the Strengthening Families framework and curricula into early childhood and child welfare partnerships, early childhood mental health consultation (ECMHC) and the Early Childhood Councils. These Early Childhood Councils in Colorado’s local communities brought together early care and education, family support, mental health and health agencies to improve the quality, access and equity of early childhood services to best serve young children and their families.  The individuals that participated in this interview were able to provide a state level view, and provided information on PIECES from an overarching perspective across the three county-level sites. In addition to the success of the project during the grant period, the PIECES project has had a long-lasting impact on child welfare and early education programs.

Long-term Impacts

Although the project ended in 2015, much of the work started by PIECES has continued and expanded across the state. For example, there has been an intentional effort to imbed trainings and programs related to PIECES into different systems across the state (e.g., a Strengthening Families training in the child welfare office at the county level). Similarly, state-level leadership has worked to institutionalize some elements of PIECES, such as incorporating the Strengthening Families protective factors into their strategic plan.

In addition to the institutional impacts of PIECES, the project has also created a better understanding of momentum around prevention and family strengthening methods. The collaboration and knowledge-building that happened during PIECES has resulted in a broader focus on both methods of prevention and the importance of collaboration itself. For example, there has been an increased number of county child welfare offices that have created their own prevention and family strengthening units. Similarly, the early childhood mental health work that was a part of PIECES has expanded into training modules for child welfare and early childhood as well as being included in the Colorado early care and education rating system for the first time. Finally, the grantee described how PIECES motivated local child welfare and early childhood leaders to be more involved and they have continued to be champions for the work, often driving the continuation and expansion throughout their communities.

Elements of success and challenges

The grantee identified several elements that allowed PIECES to be successful both during and after the grant period. For instance, PIECES included a robust evaluation process that started at the very beginning of the project and happened on the ground at all the individual grant sites. These evaluation processes were synthesized in quarterly reports that included constructive feedback and kept everyone involved in the different levels of PIECES committed to why all their hard work was important. Similarly, the grantee described how the investment and passion for the purpose of PIECES drove the success of the project. Not only was there leadership support at the highest levels of the project, but there were also “champions” in each of the county-level sites that had the skills, knowledge, and passion to make PIECES effective.

Finally, developing strong collaboration and communication through the different levels of those involved in PIECES (e.g., from the State to the project sites) was essential to the project’s success. The communication and collaboration required to pick the county-level sites early in the project established a strong foundation for future collaboration.

PIECES did face some challenges during the grant period. Most significantly, the strong relationships that helped the project to thrive also became a challenge when there was turnover. According to the grantee, as there was turnover within organizations, there needed to be continuous attention (and intention) to onboarding the new people to the philosophy and the work, which could be an additional burden on project staff.

What’s next?

The grantee has some ideas about where PIECES could go next—including increased collaboration and institutionalization of the PIECES elements. They see the PIECES vision reflected in CB’s Thriving Families initiative and think the space where early childhood, public health, and child welfare come together is where we should focus if we want to build a truly family-centric system. They are currently in the process of identifying 3-5 county-level demonstration sites that will implement family well-being system projects to pilot through the Colorado Partnership for Thriving Families Visit disclaimer page . The focus is on building the community conditions so children can thrive right from the start by providing informal and formal supports to families during the perinatal period (pregnancy through the first year of a child’s life.)             

Project Background:

Grantee name and abbreviation: Colorado Department of Human Services (CO)

Project name: Partners in Early Childhood Education Services (PIECES)

Target population: Children 0 to 5 involved with the child welfare system.

Geographic location: Statewide collaboration to promote CW and ECE Partnerships with local capacity building in El Paso, Fremont, and Jefferson Counties.

Project goals:

  1. Increase state-level coordination and collaboration to promote ECCW partnerships.
  2. Build capacity in three local grantees to increase children’s access to early intervention, EHS, HS, and quality child care.
  3. Develop model programs of CW-EC partnerships around the Strengthening Families framework, early childhood mental health consultation (ECMHC) and the Early Childhood Councils. These Early Childhood Councils in Colorado’s local communities brought together early care and education, family support, mental health and health agencies to improve the quality, access and equity of early childhood services to best serve young children and their families.
  4. Evaluate PIECES implementation and outcomes.

Key Grant Activities:

  • Established State and local leadership teams to guide the project at the State level and at the community level.
    • The local sites were selected based on their interest in the grant, and that the child welfare agency and the early childhood councils in the counties had established relationships prior to the grant award.
    • The counties selected were Jefferson, Fremont, and El Paso.
  • Developed and implemented a cross agency referral, screening, and tracking process for families and children involved in both child welfare and early childhood services.
  • Developed and distributed a PIECES bulletin to inform the field about the project.
  • Developed and/or provided training to child welfare staff, early childhood education staff, parents/ caregivers, and the general public on topics about and/or relevant to child welfare and early education.
  • Implemented the Strengthening Families protective factors framework at the local sites.

Grant Period Accomplishments:

  • The project has reinforced a core group of partners across agencies that can engage in other collaborations.
  • Although there were some concerns about the partnerships and trainings, respondents viewed their efforts in both areas as accomplishments of the PIECES project. The project allowed Child Welfare and Early Childhood organizations to build upon currently existing partnerships.
  • The project will change the way that children and families are served by creating a more all-inclusive approach.

Grant Period Challenges:

  • There were logistical challenges including marketing, training integration and process issues. Although the training sessions were well attended, committee members struggled with getting families engaged and utilizing available services.
  • Providers view and interact with families as partners as they participate in services and are considered experts in identifying their family’s needs.
  • Respondents were concerned about sustainability for the project. Some respondents noted that there may be a lack of focus that inhibits the process.
  • Concerns over integrating the project without overwhelming the staff (i.e., staff capacity).

Relevant Reports:

Site Visit Report: Colorado Partnership in Early Childhood Education Services (PIECES) Visit disclaimer page