Success Stories

Arizona Early Childhood Development and Health Initiative 

By Judy Walruff, PhD MSW
Senior Policy Specialist
First Things First - Arizona Early Childhood Development & Health Board

In the past 10 years, it has been apparent that Arizona citizens and advocates alike were supportive of improving the early childhood development and health environment for the state’s children. The leadership of two previous governors and persistent determination of early childhood education and health advocates and service providers has focused the state’s efforts in providing an environment where all young children have opportunities to grow up healthy and ready to succeed. A constant influx of families who want to raise their young children in this southwestern state and the rapid growth in the number of children under five years of age has highlighted the importance of building the foundation for an early childhood comprehensive service system that is strong and able to withstand future economic and political changes and challenges. 

In 2003, to address deficits and long standing needs in early childhood education and health, former Governor Janet Napolitano established the Arizona State School Readiness Board (SRB). This blue ribbon board included leaders from the early childhood community, pediatricians, child advocates, researchers, state agency directors and staff, and community-based service providers. Staffed by the Governor’s Office for Children, Youth, and Families/School Readiness Division, the SRB began work on a five-year early childhood action plan. This plan was issued in 2005 with recommendations that included supporting young children through parenting education and family support programs, increasing health screening of children birth through age 5, and improving the quality of child care and early childhood education. During this time, Arizona also applied for and won an Early Childhood Comprehensive System grant (ECCS) that provided a strong framework for planning and focus on implementation of the key strategies contributing to the overall success of children’s readiness to learn: medical homes and early screening, parent education, child care, behavioral health, and family support. 

In November 2006, the issues of school readiness and early childhood development and health received tremendous support and affirmation by the voters of Arizona. A citizen led ballot initiative, the Early Childhood Development and Health Initiative, was approved by a statistical landslide. The purpose of the initiative is to build on existing efforts and establish a solid early childhood development and health framework, infrastructure and service delivery system to: 

  • Improve the quality of early childhood development and health programs
  • Increase the access to quality early childhood developmental and health programs
  • Increase access to preventive health care and health screenings for children through age five
  • Offer parent and family support and education concerning early childhood development and literacy
  • Provide professional developmental and training for early childhood development and health providers
  • Increase coordination of early childhood development and health programs and public information about the importance of early childhood development and health 

Now, nearly three years since the passage of the initiative, this work is now well underway through the planning of 31 volunteer Regional Partnership Councils and partnerships with sister agencies including the Arizona Department of Health Services, Department of Economic Security, Department of Education, and Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (Arizona’s Medicaid Agency). 

New York’s Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems Initiative 

By Robert G. Frawley
Deputy Director
and Director NYS Head Start Collaboration Project
Council on Children and Families 

The Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems Planning Initiative has provided New York state with a tremendous opportunity to develop and implement an agenda for establishing a comprehensive system of supports and services for young children and their families. This initiative provided for the first time an opportunity for representatives from health care, mental health, early learning, and family support programs to work together to develop a comprehensive plan of action. 

The NYS Early Childhood Plan was completed in the spring of 2006, but with a gubernatorial election looming, printing and dissemination of the Plan was held off until the new Governor took office. Implementation efforts, however, did not stop. Activities to implement strategies in all four of the Plan’s focus areas: Healthy Children, Strong Families, Early Learning, and Supportive Communities/Coordinated Systems were underway before even the final draft was written.  

While implementation of the majority of strategies began almost immediately, there remained several important strategies that needed to wait for the new administration before proceeding. Of particular importance was the strategy that called for establishing a state-level, interagency group responsible for the coordinated planning and provision of comprehensive services for children and families. In March 2009, Governor Paterson directed his Children’s Cabinet to create the Early Childhood Advisory Council and charged that group with implementing the recommendations of the NYS Early Childhood Plan.  

This new body the Early Childhood Advisory Council — includes individuals with early childhood expertise who represent early care and education, health care, child welfare, and mental health programs, as well as advocacy organizations, parents, foundations, higher education, unions, state agencies, and others involved in the provision of comprehensive services to young children and their families. Using the framework established by the Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems plan, the Advisory Council will focus on addressing the structural issues that have impeded the development of a comprehensive system of early childhood supports and services in the past. To that end, the Advisory Council has established five work groups: 

  • Financing – developing mechanisms for funding a comprehensive system of supports and services for young children and their families
  • Quality Improvement – implementing a quality rating improvement system for early learning programs and addressing quality improvement issues in family support and health care programs
  • Capacity Building – addressing the need for cross-system data development, parenting education, social-emotional development/mental health services, and home visiting
  • Early Learning Programs Workforce Development – building an early learning professional development system
  • Cross-training Workforce Development – providing a basic understanding of child and family development and the array of programs and services available to health, education, and human service staff that come into contact with young children  

The Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems Initiative guided New York state in developing a vision of a comprehensive system of early childhood supports and services. The work that has taken place as a result of this Initiative has led to the establishment of the Early Childhood Advisory Council and to additional federal funding opportunities provided through the Head Start Reauthorization Act. Also, New York state has just been chosen as the eighth state to receive support from the BUILD Initiative to establish comprehensive services and most recently, New York was chosen to receive funding through Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Project Launch Initiative.  

To learn more about the NYS Early Childhood Plan, visit here.