Approaches to Systems Integration
While much has been written about models, approaches, and the design of human service systems, the work remains complex, the processes dynamic, and the structural alignment ever-changing. There are varied approaches to building early care and education systems; some focus on structural components while others focus on processes. For the most part, there is a lot of overlap in the definitions and approaches for systems integration. Some key aspects of different approaches are outlined below.
- Systems integration as a way of thinking: Effective cross-systems efforts must reframe how to think about change and help establish a deeper understanding of why situations are the way they are and how to improve outcomes. Systems thinking allows partners to see multiple and complex interconnections and to use the key leverage points within the system to make small changes that can have a substantial effect on desired outcomes.
- Systems integration focused on structural issues (e.g., governance, funding, policies, and standards): It is important to identify core components, define the system, and agree on what the system is designed to achieve. The development of shared structural mechanisms to support and sustain systems integration is central to the success of cross-systems efforts.
- Systems integration focused on processes that support integration (e.g., strategic planning, relationship building, and communication): Implementation approaches commonly suggested by systems building initiatives include planning tools such as line-of-sight and mental map exercises and implementation approaches such as Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA), theory of change, and implementation science.
The table that follows provides brief descriptions of several systems building initiatives. While they vary in scope and their audiences, they provide highlights of different approaches. Recall that early childhood systems building initiatives may include some or all of the elements of the framework for systems building mentioned above (context, components, connections, infrastructure, and scale).
The table starts with initiatives that are ongoing and includes some that have concluded but provide important information about systems building.
Table 1. System Building Current Initiative
|BUILD Initiative: Strong Foundations for our Youngest Children
|Partnership with state leaders to create the policies, infrastructure, and cross-sector connections necessary for quality and equity, with a focus on early learning, health, mental health, nutrition, child welfare, and family support and engagement. Coordination of comprehensive supports for children and their families to ensure positive health, social-emotional, and cognitive outcomes for children birth to age 5 and their families.
Center for the Study of Social Policy
|Partnerships, primarily local, to foster early childhood systems building.
EC-LINC: Helping communities build results-oriented, integrated early childhood systems that improve outcomes for young children and their families.
Strengthening Families: Engaging families, programs, and communities to adopt the Strengthening Families framework, which is a research-informed approach to increase family strengths, enhance child development, and reduce the likelihood of child abuse and neglect.
Early Learning Nation: Supporting a network of communities that work to achieve equitable results for children and their families, building their strategies according to local needs, resources, and priorities.
State and local communities and organization
Child Trends: Early Childhood Health Equity (ECHE) Landscape Project
|The ECHE Landscape Project explored and documented innovative practices across the United States that sit at the intersection of early childhood development and health equity. The project presented information about 143 cross-sector early childhood systems initiatives commonly addressing the social-emotional development, mental health, and school readiness aspects of health and development.
|Policymakers, advocates, communities, and families
|Early Childhood Data Collaborative (ECDC)
|Supports state policymakers’ development and use of coordinated state early care and education (ECE) data systems. The ECDC provides tools and resources to encourage data-driven state policy changes and provide a national forum to support the development and use of coordinated state ECE data systems.
Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) Maternal Child Health Bureau
Early Childhood Systems Initiative Portfolio:
|Federal, grant-awarding agency that supports the healthy development of all children by addressing systemic barriers to coordination, reach, and equity; addressing the needs of children and their caregivers together (known as a two-generation approach); and promoting holistic health and well-being through partnerships that bridge medical, mental, and behavioral health, early care and education, child welfare, and other human services and family supports.
|States and territories
Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five
|Provides funds to states to conduct a comprehensive statewide birth through age 5 needs assessment followed by in-depth strategic planning while enhancing parent choice and expanding the current mixed-delivery system consisting of a wide range of provider types and settings, including child care centers and home-based child care providers, Head Start and Early Head Start, state prekindergarten, and home visiting service providers across the public, private, and faith-based sectors.
|States and territories
Table 2. System Building Historical Initiative
|Family Impact Institute
|Provided policymakers and professionals with nonpartisan, solution-oriented research and a family and racial equity lens on many of the complex issues being debated in state legislatures across the country.
|The initiative targeted 27 states and the District of Columbia and then was narrowed to a smaller network of states
|Work Support Strategies: Streamlining Access, Strengthening Families
|Coordination of key human services to simplify application and eligibility processes and increase efficiencies in helping families achieve and sustain economic independence and stability.
|Through a competitive grant application process, nine states participated: Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, and South Carolina