Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth, and Families

Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth, and Families



The primary focus of Rhode Island’s ECCW project, RI Child Welfare-Head Start Partnership, which ended in 2015, was to strengthen relationships across child welfare and early childhood service systems to benefit children birth to 5 involved in the Rhode Island child welfare system. It is important to note that the Rhode Island Child Welfare-Head Start Partnership built upon the ECCW I grant awarded to Children’s Friend in 2011, which culminated in the “Let’s Get It Right” full day event that highlighted a purposeful effort to bring together all dedicated partners related to young children and families involved in the child welfare system. In addition to the success of the project during the grant period, the Rhode Island Child Welfare-Head Start Partnership project also had a long-lasting impact on child welfare and early education programs.

Long-term Impacts

Although the ECCW II grant period ended in 2015, much of the work of the RI Child Welfare-Head Start Partnership has continued, supported by the many elements that made it successful during the grant period. The strong relationships and effective collaboration fostered through the grant have been instrumental in continuing the work started during the project, and have even spurred the development of additional projects. In addition, the RI Child Welfare-Head Start Partnership’s focus on developing and braiding infrastructure has continued to flourish and has even attracted more funding options to continue the work. For example, at the conclusion of the RI Child Welfare-Head Start Partnership project in September 2015, coordination of cross-system early childhood activities at DCYF shifted to the SAMHSA System of Care Grant in an effort to sustain and expand the work that had already started. The SAMHSA System of Care grant had been running concurrently with RI Child Welfare-Head Start Partnership and had made notable contributions to the early childhood service sector.

DCYF has found ways to build upon its initial work through subsequent projects, through additional grant funding, and by partnering with outside organizations. An example of this is the W.K. Kellogg Foundation grant that was awarded to DCYF in 2017. This grant project was an intentional effort to continue and expand the efforts started during RI Child Welfare-Head Start Partnership and the activities under the SAMHSA grant from 2015 to 2017. Finally, since the end of RI Child Welfare-Head Start Partnership, DCYF has been able to implement substantive policy changes such as the implementation of the revised DCYF Early Childhood Service Referral Policy in March of 2017. This policy was the culmination of several years of work that began under the previous RI Child Welfare-Head Start Partnership project. Rhode Island is also tracking the process that follows the successful referral and of the total CAPTA population for Fiscal Year 2019 over 90% were successfully referred, 67% had successful program contact, 59.6% were screened or evaluated and 36% were successfully engaged in Part C or MIECHV programing. Close tracking of the rate of engagement was made possible through a diligent and dedicated cross-system effort. 

Elements of success and challenges

The grantee identified several elements that allowed the RI Child Welfare-Head Start Partnership to be successful both during and after the grant period. An example of this is the commitment at the highest levels of leadership, as well as consistency throughout mid-level leadership positions. Not only was leadership supportive of the project, but members were involved in the writing of the grant itself and developed related initiatives. The consistency of mid-level and staff positions boosted the project’s effort to build strong relationships and create effective collaboration across programs, agencies, and organizations. There was also an intentional effort to build relationships among personnel and foster opportunities for collaboration. For example, trainings and meetings were set up across organizations so that staff would have a chance to meet and several groups were established that included staff and leadership from intersecting organizations that met regularly during the designated date/time. The inter-organizational structure and consistency of these groups, which included some advisory panels, facilitated consistent collaboration and long-term relationship building. These groups also underscored each member’s commitment to the larger goals and purpose of the project. In this way, the project was able to set a clear vision for why the RI Child Welfare-Head Start Partnership was happening and consistently revisit and refocus the groups, plans, and developments in relation to this vision.

RI Child Welfare-Head Start Partnership did face some challenges during the grant period, some of which continue in their work today. While there was consistency in mid-level leadership, turnover in the higher levels of leadership posed a challenge to ongoing projects. Similarly, there was an occasional disconnect between what was happening with the workforce on the group and state-level leadership. Finally, some elements of the project, like data sharing, occasionally ran into barriers that were created by policies or laws outside of their immediate control.

What’s next?

The grantee also has some ideas where the work started in their ECCW project could go next. They would like to continue the focus on prevention of child maltreatment. Similarly, the former grantee would like to review early childhood and child welfare programs with an equity lens and identify the role of generational trauma in systems and community outreach. Finally, they would like to continue to build on the partnerships developed during the RI Child Welfare-Head Start Partnership in order to reach effective and lasting statewide collaboration.

Project Background:

Grantee name and abbreviation: Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF)

Project name: Rhode Island Child Welfare-Head Start Partnership

Target population: Young children in foster care

Project goals:

  1. Establish links and coordination for statewide integrated system of screening, assessment, and collaboration service delivery across early care agencies for infants and young children (birth to 5) and their families.
  2. Develop a trauma informed, developmentally appropriate, positive behavioral support (PBS) curriculum to support social-emotional well-being for young children utilizing a Train-the-Trainer and data-based coaching model that will increase the capacity of early care providers to a) mediate the effects of early childhood trauma, b) support children’s resiliency, and c) increase parental protective factors and satisfaction.
  3. Implement key recommendations resulting from current federally funded (ACF) state level research to ensure that children in the child welfare system have access to high quality early care and education (Head Start specifically).
  4. Ensure sustainability by establishing a permanent governance structure that is a multi-state agency partnership including families with infants and young children.

Key Grant Activities:

  • Established the RI Early Childhood Child Welfare Project Management Team, which met biweekly to design and direct the project.
  • Conducted activities to increase public awareness about Early Head Start/Head Start.
  • Assessed current workforce knowledge of child welfare and early childhood development concepts and best practices, and their ability to apply best practices as they work with young children in foster care.

Grant Period Accomplishments:

  • The project was most successful in increasing visibility regarding the special needs of the youngest children in foster care, reinforcing awareness about the benefits of EHS/HS, and disseminating practical information about EHS/HS to stakeholders.
  • The project accomplished all activities listed in the grant proposal and logic model.
    • Met with key stakeholder groups to disseminate information
    • Identified barriers to EHS/HS enrollment among children in foster care
    • Completed a workforce competency survey
    • Held open houses to promote EHS/HS enrollment for children in foster care
    • Created and disseminated brochures about EHS/HS
    • Developed MOUs between key organizations
    • Collaborated on a tremendously successful dissemination event
  • There were indicators of increased collaboration among some key people, organizations, and initiatives.
  • RI DCYF and RI HS Association agreed to collaborate to ensure that young children involved in the child welfare system have access to EHS/HS and to offer joint trainings and professional development opportunities.

Grant Period Challenges:

  • The reach of many project activities (e.g., open houses) was small and they were not widely attended by target audiences (e.g., DCYF front line staff), thereby reducing the overall impact.
  • The project had limited success in engaging a broad base of stakeholders in collaborative planning and in making system changes that benefit the youngest children in foster care.
  • Trainings in early childhood development, special needs of children in foster care, attachment, and trauma were available and/or mandated by the agency (e.g., EHS/ HS, DCYF, foster parent licensing), but systemic issues resulted in limited participation.

Relevant Reports: