Early Childhood Systems Building Resource Guide

Overview of Systems Initiatives

There have been national and state efforts to develop more effective delivery of human services that result in positive outcomes for children and families, their communities, states, and the nation. Numerous models (or frameworks) have been developed to show the necessary relationships, component parts, and organization that are essential in integrating systems. The frameworks are focused on the coordination of services to achieve a particular goal. They include the following approaches:

  • Early  learning services to improve school readiness, and/or to assure long-term academic outcomes for children;
  • Comprehensive services to ensure positive health, social-emotional, and cognitive outcomes for children;
  • Services  and community supports to strengthen families and prevent abuse and neglect; and
  • Services that help families achieve and sustain economic independence.

While systems initiatives generally have one of the four previously listed approaches, there is much parallel work taking place at about the same time. Many States and national efforts are taking similar actions to achieve various goals, but not all recognized the intersections and interconnections of their work. Child care services are described as a key service in all initiatives regardless of overall goal for cross-systems integration (i.e. strengthening families and preventing abuse and neglect, providing comprehensive services for children and families, promoting economic self-sufficiency for low-income families, and improving school readiness).

When addressing the achievement gap for our most vulnerable children, there is a tension or a balancing act between a focus on child outcomes, school readiness, and success, and a focus on comprehensive human services. Decisionmakers must weigh the needs of the child (school readiness) against the needs of the family (economic stability and family supports). States, faced with limited resources, often have to choose between expenditures on quality early childhood programs versus access and availability of those services to families. A "systems" approach provides a context within which to have these discussions and where decisionmakers can develop coordinated, inclusive approaches to achieving optimal child outcomes and strong and stable families.

Approaches to Systems Integration

While much has been written about models, approaches, and 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 have to reframe how we 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 stakeholders 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 effects on desired outcomes.
  • Systems integration focused on structural issues (e.g. governance, funding, policies, and standards); and
    • 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 PDCA (plan–do–check–act), theory of change, and implementation science.

 

The chart that follows provides brief descriptions of twelve systems building initiatives. While they vary in scope and target audiences, they provide highlights of different approaches.

InitiativeScopeTarget Audience

Build Initiative: Strong Foundations for our Youngest Children

http://www.buildinitiative.org/

Coordination of comprehensive services or comprehensive supports for children and their families to ensure positive health, social-emotional, and cognitive outcomes for children. (Children birth to age 5 and their families)

The Build Initiative funds work with ten states (Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington,) supports Early Learning Challenge grantees and applicants and lead a 50-state national learning community.

Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems Initiative: Maternal and Child Health Bureau

http://eccs.hrsa.gov/

Coordination of comprehensive services or comprehensive supports for children and their families to ensure positive health, social-emotional, and cognitive outcomes for children.  (Children birth to age 5 and their families)

Federal agency, grants to States and Territories (except Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Dakota)

Policy Institute for Family Impact Seminars

http://familyimpactseminars.org/

Coordination of services and community supports to strengthen families and prevent abuse and neglect

The initiative targeted 27 States and DC (but the materials are distributed more widely).

Good Start and Grow Smart

Coordination of early learning services (child care, Head Start, State-funded prekindergarten) to improve school readiness, address gaps in school readiness by high-need populations, or to assure long-term academic outcomes for children. (Children birth to age 13).

National initiative covering all States, DC, and the Territories. Technical assistance (TA) was delivered through the OCC TA network.

Pathway Mapping Initiative (PMI)

http://www.cssp.org/publications/pathways-to-outcomes

Coordination of comprehensive services or comprehensive supports for children and their families to ensure positive health, social-emotional, and cognitive outcomes for children.

While tools and resources were developed, there was no delivery mechanism (e.g., TA to help States implement concepts). Tools are targeted at State and local entities.

Work Support Strategies: Streamlining Access, Strengthening Families

http://www.urban.org/worksupport/

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 were selected in early 2011 to receive one-year planning grants through this program. These nine states are Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, and South Carolina.

Service Integration Network (SINET)

http://www.irp.wisc.edu/research/reorgsocpol/systemsintegration/connections.htm

Coordination of key human services to simplify application and eligibility processes and increase efficiencies in helping families achieve and sustain economic independence and stability.

State agencies are the targeted audience but there is no TA delivery mechanism.

Strengthening Families

http://www.cssp.org/reform/strengthening-families

Coordination of services and community supports to strengthen families and prevent abuse and neglect.

State and local agencies (National).

Improving Child Welfare Outcomes Through Systems of Care

http://www.childwelfare.gov/management/reform/soc/

Coordination of services and community supports to strengthen families and prevent abuse and neglect.

State and local agencies.

QUILT - Quality and Linking Together

Coordination of early learning services (child care, Head Start, State-funded prekindergarten) to improve school readiness, address gaps in school readiness by high-need populations, and to assure long-term academic outcomes for children (Children birth to age 13).

All States, Territories, and Tribes received TA.

Early Childhood Data Collaborative

http://www.ecedata.org/

Coordination of early learning services (child care, Head Start, State-funded prekindergarten) to improve school readiness, address gaps in school readiness by high-need populations, and to assure long-term academic outcomes for children.

Tools and resources are available to help State agencies implement effective data systems. There is no TA delivery mechanism.

Race to the Top -- Early Learning Challenge

http://www2.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop-earlylearningchallenge/index.html

Improve early learning and development programs for young children through comprehensive early learning education reform by supporting State’s efforts in: (1) Designing and implementing an integrated system of high quality early learning services; (2) Increasing the child enrollment in high-quality early learning programs; and (3) Using National Research Council recommended assessments.

Through a competitive grant application process, nine States were selected in Round 1 in 2011 (California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia), five states in Round 2 in 2012 (Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon, and Wisconsin), and 6 additional states in 2013 (New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Georgia, Kentucky, and Michigan)

 

Common Themes and Opportunities

Although the initiatives described above include a variety of systems models and theories, they share some common themes - leadership, strategic planning, supports, and use of data and communications.  

Common Themes

  • Leadership Roles—Initiatives include one or more leadership roles that are designed to unite partners and the public around a common vision.
  • Strategic Plan— Initiatives establish a cohesive plan that articulates a common vision from which to build, enhance, and sustain systems to improve services and policies for children, youth, families, and communities.
  • Supports—Initiatives involve staff and clients in planning and training, and provide ongoing support for process and policy changes that result from systems building efforts.
  • Data—Initiatives use data to inform decisionmaking and improve services.
  • Communication—Initiatives use many methods to provide open communication among partners, leadership, and staff and among the 8 project/services and clients.

Opportunities for Improving Cross Sector Systems

  • Systems building should include both structure and process.
  • Building a system is an ongoing process that will likely take place in phases. Systems development and systems implementation may require different functions. Resist the temptation to build a system focused on a single point in time.
  • The greater the number of services, sectors, or programs to be integrated, the more complex the work is and the harder it is to accomplish. Many initiatives maintain a narrow focus, such as early learning, in order to successfully and quickly move forward.
  • Children and families are impacted by all facets of family life, community resources, and even the current State and national context. Pay attention to the intersections and interconnections across subsystems that touch children and families.
  • “A central axiom of the organizational development field is that the different parts of any system are interdependent: changes in one part of the system will be reacted to, and often resisted by, other parts of the system…desired changes in frontline practice require accompanying changes in the other dimensions of the service system if they are to be successful and be sustained.”[1]

 


[1] Cohen, E., & Ooms, T. (1993). From “Good Enough” to “Best Possible,” An Assessment Tool for the Child and Family Services Plan. Washington, DC: Family Impact Seminar