Improving Services for Children and Families through Integrated Cross-Sector Systems

Over the last few decades, there has been a steady increase in the number of policies and initiatives focused on meeting the needs of young children and their families. As a result, there is a dizzying array of programs dispersed across agencies, departments, private and public institutions and within federal, state, and local government. There are unintended consequences of this context which can include service delivery that is ineffective and inefficient, duplication of efforts, and/or missed opportunities to leverage funding. In short, as a result of disparate programs, outcomes for children may not be fully realized.

In an effort to improve opportunities for children and families and best use available resources, attention and funding has been directed at building and integrating systems for early care and education. “The goal of such efforts is to institutionalize programs and policies into durable systems. Although the precise efforts vary, those engaged in them share the recognition of the burdens of an incoherent nonsystem… [it requires] thinking that transcends the provision of any individual program and considers early childhood services broadly and comprehensively.”[1]

What is a system and why is it needed in early care and education?

A system is a set of parts or components (or people) that are interconnected and that together produce a result.  The establishment of a system of early care and education necessitates a holistic coordinated approach with stakeholders working together to eliminate parallel paths and siloes, to maximize financing, integrate and align programs, and hold themselves (programs) accountable for results – all of which are critical to achieving the outcomes that young children need.

The goal of this resource is to provide an overview of the varied landscape to systems integration and provide useful resources for national, state, or local initiatives. It includes examples of national projects, common elements of and opportunities for improving systems initiatives, resources for assessing systems building, evaluation studies from national projects, and a set of resources.

Early care and education and school-age services are in the unique position of connecting the needs of children with those of their families and the workforce that supports them. As the largest single funder of early and school-age care and education services, the Child Care and Development Fund’s (CCDF) child care assistance and quality improvement efforts are often linked to other services at the State and local levels. CCDF grantees supported by the Office of Child Care (OCC) are well positioned to coordinate with other agencies and/or programs to:

  • Increase accessibility and affordability of high-quality early and school-age care and education services;
  • Support quality investments to promote continuous quality improvement of both programs and workforce;
  • Support family and children, especially those under stress and/or with multiple risk factors by helping address physical health, mental health, school readiness, and access to comprehensive services; and
  • Coordinate data collection, reporting, and evaluation to improve early and school-age care and education services.


[1] S. L. Kagan & K. Kauerz (Eds.) (2012), Early Childhood Systems: Transforming early learning. New York: Teachers College Press.