Comprehensive Early Childhood System-Building: A Tool To Inform Discussions On Collaborative, Cross-Sector Planning


What is the purpose of this tool?
The purpose of this tool is to help state and community leaders improve the capacity of their early childhood system. Comprehensive early childhood systems require work across the Health, Early Learning and Development, and Family Support and Leadership sectors in order to achieve agreed-upon goals for thriving children and families. The tool is based on the framework and accompanying graphic developed by the Early Childhood System Working Group (ECSWG).

Who are the intended users of this tool?
This tool is designed to assist facilitators working with state or community stakeholders from multiple sectors to plan
for and manage integrated early childhood systems. Stakeholders might include leaders from the governor’s or mayor’s office, a Children’s Cabinet or a State Early Learning Advisory Council, relevant state, county and local agencies, non- governmental agencies, and others in the early childhood policy and professional community. Potential agencies to include in such a discussion are listed in the Appendix to this document; the list includes agencies with authority over relevant federal programs and funding streams for young children and families across the sectors of Health, Early Learning and Development, and Family Leadership and Support.

What is Early Childhood System-building?
Early childhood system-building in the ongoing process of developing the structures, behaviors, and connections that make all the components of an early childhood system operate as a whole to promote shared results for children and families. The ECSWG developed this tool with the understanding that states and communities each find their own path to building a comprehensive early childhood system and that it would not be possible to develop a tool that recommends a linear process to follow to do so. System-building is dynamic and can occur in fits and starts or double back and start over. The intention is that this tool would be relevant no matter what stage a planning or management group is in.

How can the ECSWG Early Childhood System graphic facilitate system-building?
The ECSWG has developed a simple graphic (often referred to as “the ovals”) depicting the intersection of the Health, Early Learning and Development, and Family Support and Leadership systems that are necessary to develop a comprehensive early childhood system (see Figure One). Since their creation, the ECSWG graphics have been widely used and adapted by early childhood stakeholders to understand, communicate, and support policy improvements for systems. The graphic shows:

Desired Results: In the center of the graphic is the desired result for early childhood systems, thriving children and families. Each planning group will want to bring further clarity and definition to that term reflecting their own unique priorities.

Source: The BUILD Initiative

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