June is Pride month, a time to celebrate LGBTQIA2S+ communities and reflect. Pride month exists to foster a sense of community, appreciate differences, and cultivate diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, and belonging for queer folx around the world.

Pride month is so important to us here at Start Early. We are committed to cultivating an environment built on the values of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. Participating in Pride month is one way Start Early demonstrates a commitment to co-creating an organizational culture of inclusion where the presence, voices and ideas of staff and the communities we serve are represented, heard, valued, and acted upon.

Our work, focused on providing a bright and equitable future for all children, would not be possible without recognizing that LGBTQIA2S+ children, families and communities have been uniquely impacted and traumatized by hate and long-tolerated inequities.

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Caring parents want to protect their children from harm, which can make it difficult to know how to teach children about the history and create awareness about events like Pride. With many neighborhoods and communities showing their support for Pride in June, it’s only natural for children to get curious and start asking questions.

Child development experts agree parents should keep explanations simple and honest. It is also important to be positive and affirming. When adults listen to children without judgment, and meet children where they are at, it creates a foundation for open communication. When parents promote values of acceptance, children will grow proud of their identity and appreciate diversity.

Resources to Help Celebrate Pride Month with Your Children

Pride month is an important opportunity to teach children about what it means to be a member of LGBTQIA2S+ communities, share the history behind the month-long celebration, and to have some fun together as a family. Here are activities and resources that can be helpful when teaching your little one about Pride:




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Happy Sunny Interim from the Capitol Building! Building!(Photo Credit: Erica Hallock)Happy Sunny Interim from the Capitol Building! (Photo Credit: Erica Hallock)

Notes to the Reader: Start Early Washington publishes “Notes from Olympia” intermittently during the legislative interim.

Thanks to those who responded to our survey about this publication. You all provided excellent feedback and suggestions on ways to improve the product. Several folks mentioned incorporating video content, an intriguing idea that may push us out of our comfort zone, but we are game to give it a whirl!

And in case you were waiting with bated breath… 60.6% of the Notes readers who responded favor the Razor Clam for the official Washington State clam. Sorry geoduck fans!

What We Are Watching…

The State’s Revenue Picture

In the past few weeks, several economic indicators have been released that, collectively, signal potential concerns around the state’s fiscal outlook. These include:

  1. Reduced Capital Gains Revenues – In late May, the Department of Revenue reported a drop in Capital Gains collections for Tax Years 2022 and 2023. (Check out the Washington State Standard article more in-depth coverage).As of May 17, 2024, $433 million in Capital Gains taxes have been collected for Tax Year 2023, significantly less than the $673 million projected in the February revenue forecast. Capital Gains payments are due by April 15th annually, but filers can request an extension. This collection amount could increase with late payments.Further, the Department of Revenue reported that with additional late payments and refunds, actual collections for Tax Year 2022 for Capital Gains were $786 million, not the assumed $896 million.We can expect these updated figures to be factored into the June revenue forecast (discussed below).As a reminder, the first $500 million collected in Capital Gains annually is deposited into the Education Legacy Trust Account. The Education Legacy Trust Account is used to support early learning, common schools (aka K-12 education) and higher education. Any amount collected above $500 million annually is deposited into the Common Schools Construction Account. This means the drop in Tax Year 2022 revenue impacts the amount of funding available for the Commons Schools Construction Account and, if the payments for Tax Year 2023 remain under $500 million, this will impact deposits into the Education Legacy Trust Account and budget writers will have to make necessary adjustments. More to come on this as we learn more.
  2. Drop in Estimated Reserves in Four-Year Budget Outlook – Washington state law requires the Legislature to adopt a four-year balanced budget that leaves a positive ending fund balance in the general fund and other related funds.On April 25, the Washington state Economic and Revenue Forecast Council adopted its official budget outlook to reflect investments included in the 2024 Supplemental Budget. While the adopted Supplemental Budget balances over four-years, the ending balance for funds subject to the Outlook at the end of the 2025-27 biennium is now $100M. This is $410M lower than the ending balance of $510M included in the estimated Outlook presented to lawmakers alongside the compromise budget in March (aka the conference report).A major reason for this downward adjustment is due to a change in assumptions about “reversions.” Reversions are appropriations that do not end up being spent and “revert” to the state and can then be reappropriated. For reversions, the adopted Outlook assumes 0.8% of appropriations for State Fiscal Year (SFY) 2024, lowering to 0.5% in SFYs 2025-27. In layman’s terms, this means less funding is assumed to “come back” to the state to be invested for other purposes. Specifically, the Outlook assumes $284M of reversions in SFY 2024, $199M in SFY 2025, $189M in SFY 2026 and $194M in SFY 2027.
  3. Revenue Collections Come in Lower than Forecasted for April 11-May 10 – The state’s Economic and Revenue Council’s May Economic and Revenue Update showed revenue collections for April 11 – May 10 came in $114M (4.6%) lower than forecasted. This report comes after April’s update which showed a $82.9M surplus.Cumulatively, revenue collections are down $60.6M from the forecast (1%).
  4. Revenue and Caseload Forecasts Out in June – Updated Caseload and Revenue forecasts will be released in June (June 13 and 26, respectively). These forecasts will provide important data points that will inform the state’s budget plans for the 2025-27 and 2027-29 biennia (remember that four-year balanced budget requirement).The caseload forecast will provide a snapshot of expected enrollment in entitlement programs that drive state investments such as K-12, Medicaid and prisons. For early childhood, Working Connections, ECEAP, ESIT and Transition to Kindergarten are all included in the caseload forecast. In short, the caseload forecast provides insight into expected state investments.The revenue forecast will provide an update on anticipated state revenue. These forecasts consider state, national and international factors that impact the economy from construction activity in the Puget Sound to the war in Ukraine. As noted above, we can expect adjustments related to Capital Gains payments.

What’s Coming Up in the 2025-27 Biennium for Early Learning?

State agencies are busy preparing budget requests (or “Decision Packages”) to the Governor’s Office of Financial Management (OFM) to inform Governor Inslee’s final budget that will be released in late December.
Importantly, OFM will be releasing instructions to state agencies sometime in June to guide their budget preparation process. The state’s revenue picture and upcoming change in gubernatorial administration could influence these budget instructions. For example, OFM could direct state agencies to limit budget requests to what expansions or policy changes are included in statute. As a reminder, Governors must release balanced budgets.

These budget requests are due to the Office of Financial Management around mid-September annually.

The Fair Start for Kids Act of 2021 dictated in statute a number of expansions to both Working Connections Child Care and ECEAP during the 2025-27 biennium. As a reminder, these expansions and policy changes include:

  1. Expanded eligibility for Working Connections Child Care up to 75% of the State Median Income (SMI) as of July 1, 2025. The latest data shows this income equates to $6,386 a month for a family of three.
  2. Establishment of a $215 a month co-payment for Working Connections Child Care for families between 60% – 75% SMI as of July 1, 2025. This aligns with the expanded eligibility.
  3. By the 2026-27 school year, any eligible child shall be entitled to enroll in ECEAP.
  4. DCYF to submit an implementation plan to expand access to the state’s mixed delivery child care system by June 30, 2025. The plan must assume that any financial contribution by families is capped at no more than seven percent of household income and that the child care workforce is provided living wages and benefits. This is also known as the Early Childhood Education (ECE) Access and Living Wage Implementation Plan.

Because these policies are all included in statute, DCYF is preparing to submit Decision Packages to outline expected costs. DCYF will also be considering other funding requests, but we can expect the agency to prioritize these statutorily required items.

It is important to remember that policies embedded in statute signal a legislative commitment to fund a policy. Should the Legislature opt not to fund – or fund a policy at a different amount – than what is included in statute, they must take a direct action to change their previous decision. Conversely, items listed in statute as “subject to appropriation,” can simply not be funded without any further action by the Legislature.

Candidate Filing Week, By the Numbers

The 2024 primary and general elections are shaping up to be some of the most competitive and interesting in recent memory. With open seats from Governor through counties and cities, hundreds of Washingtonians opted to run for public office during the May 6-10 “Candidate Filing Week.” Check out the Secretary of State’s website for an official listing of the offices and candidates.

We thought we would use numbers to convey some themes and stories that jumped out to us from filing week. (Note this is not intended to be all-inclusive).

3: Three people named Bob Fergusons initially filed to run for Governor. Ultimately, two of the “Bob Fergusons” withdrew, leaving the state’s current Attorney General as the only “Bob Ferguson” in the race.

This situation helped us learn about a 1943 law that makes it a felony to run for office against someone with the same name with the goal of confusing the voters. Check out the Washington State Standard’s coverage of the issue.

4: Four incumbent Senators are running unopposed.

19: The number of House members who are running unopposed.

8: The number of current House members who are running for open Senate seats.

6: Candidates filed to run for the open Senate seat in the 4th Legislative District (LD). A total of 5 Republicans (including current House member Rep. Leonard Christian) and one Democrat. The most crowded Senate race.

6 is also the magic number for the open House position 2 seat in the 4th LD. In this race, four Republicans and two Democrats are running. After two candidates withdrew from the House position 1 seat in the 5th LD, this race in the 4th became the most crowded House race.

1: One candidate is running for the open 3rd LD Senate seat currently occupied by departing Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig. Current Representative Marcus Riccelli is running unopposed for this seat after the individual who filed to run against Riccelli withdrew their candidacy.

1: One former House member is running for the House in a different legislative district than he originally served (former Representative Mark Hargrove from the 47th LD filed to run for the House 5th LD Position 1).

16: Sixteen current legislators drew opponents from their same party.
2 of these current legislators are running for the Senate (one Republican and one Democrat).

The remaining 14 legislators are all running for re-election in the House. Of these, 9 are Democrats and 5 are Republicans.

As a reminder, Washington state operates a “top-two” primary system, where the two candidates receiving the most votes advance to the general election. Learn more at the Secretary of State’s webpage.

Washington’s primary election is on August 6, 2024.

Check out Washington’s online voter registration portal!

Our Policy and Advocacy Shop is Hiring!

Our Policy and Advocacy Team is looking to turn our duo into a trio! We’re in search of someone to assist our efforts of bolstering early learning in our great state. If you know anyone who is passionate about Washington State, its families and providers, and is interested in learning about the legislative process, please refer them to our Policy and Advocacy Associate position. In addition, Start Early Washington is hiring a Senior Communications and Development Associate to drive external awareness and engagement with potential supporters and people working in early childhood and related fields. We look forward to reviewing applications!

Capitol Campus Construction Update

The Joel M. Pritchard Library – the latest building on the Capital Campus under construction(Photo Credit: Erica Hallock)The Joel M. Pritchard Library – the latest building on the Capital Campus under construction (Photo Credit: Erica Hallock)

A late May visit to the Capitol not only allowed for viewing of gorgeous flowers blooming throughout the campus, but also an update on the significant construction underway. Since Sine Die, there has been significant progress made on the Newhouse Building (which we will cover in a future Notes) and construction has also started on the Joel M. Pritchard library upgrade.

The parking lot used by legislators and staff is now dedicated to construction vehicles and – while hard to tell by the pictures – the large windows framing the building’s entrance are being removed. Deconstruction of the current building is scheduled to be completed by October 2024 with construction of the new building starting in June 2025, with substantial completion expected by June 2026.

What does this mean for the 2025 legislative session?

With the Pritchard building closed, there will be very limited space for the public to gather and eat between meetings, particularly on rainy days. Expect more crowding in the Legislative Building, especially on big advocacy days.

Per the Department of Enterprise Services’ website, the renderings for the new Pritchard building look to be quite the upgrade:

Department of Enterprise Services building
Department of Enterprise Services

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Start Early Washington is fortunate to work with committed partners like Perigee Fund who believe in the power of healthy relationships with caregivers to give babies and toddlers the best start in life. Learn more about how Perigee Fund prioritizes investment in infant and maternal mental health in our recent conversation with Perigee team members Becca Graves and Kim Gilsdorf.

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Becca Graves, Executive Director Perigee Fund
Becca Graves, Executive Director Perigee Fund

Looking for Bright Spots

What are some of the biggest things you’ve learned in supporting infant and maternal mental health?

Becca: I have been really impressed by the leaders that we have encountered in Washington State and across the United States. We all know there are not enough resources in the ecosystem to support families. We also know there is not enough support for the work that infant and maternal mental health leaders are doing. Yet so many leaders are willing to step forward with partners and make things happen. For example, Perinatal Support Washington and Start Early partnered to provide home visitors with Maternal Mental Health training. That partnership has created new mental health resources for the workforce and for families.

Kimberly Gilsdorf, Program Officer Perigee Fund
Kimberly Gilsdorf, Program Officer Perigee Fund

Kim: Because early childhood and parent mental health is so under-resourced, there are opportunities for progress in many kinds of systems. That is helpful because as we seek to fund systems change, we can remember we don’t have the answers. We can’t foresee which groups of stakeholders, in which systems, are going to rise to the occasion because they care deeply about the bond between caregivers and a child, and they see how important that is to their work.

In Tennessee we see leadership from community behavioral health, in California we see innovation led by pediatricians and community health workers, and in New Jersey there are doulas growing access to maternal mental health care. These examples are the tip of the iceberg. The diversity of ways to make progress is both a lesson learned as well as an approach we can continue to support.

Creating a Movement

(Start Early) Are you finding new champions for infant and maternal mental health emerging since Perigee began in 2018?

Becca: We have learned that there are champions everywhere. I think our mission calls us to learn about opportunities to help everyone see the importance of child and family wellbeing and valuing the earliest relationships. Particularly where there are instances of trauma in a family’s experience, either now or intergenerationally.

Whether it’s guaranteed basic income or child welfare, there are people in tune with needs and opportunities, and there are people who are curious and want to learn more. By gathering people together, getting to know one another, and talking about the issues, you can see the places where the family economic security goals and the mental health goals can come together and be in alignment.

When parents experience adversity, such as poverty, trauma and racism, their children can feel lasting effects, even into adulthood. Early support for babies, families, and caregivers can lessen the impact, leading to better long-term health and well-being.

Perigee Fund
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Building for the Future

What would the biggest impact or change you would like to see over the next 10-15 years because of Perigee’s intentional investments?

Kim: I’d like to see policy makers have a greater understanding of the fundamental importance of early relationships. That mental model shift is part of creating policies that make mental health support more equitable and more accessible for families with very young children.

Becca: We need to value and embed support for families in the places where they are. Certainly, there are many ways that families support themselves and communities support families that don’t require additional resourcing, but they do require us to respect and value the importance of family relationships and community relationships and not get in the way. And there is a lot that we should be doing differently with our public policy and with the ways that we think about community-based models of care.

Supporting the Field

This is hard work and it’s not as easily measured as “can your child read by third grade.” Perigee has been such a champion in helping to advance our Neuroscience, Epigenetics, Adverse Childhood Experiences, Resilience (NEAR@Home) trauma-informed training to support home visitors in building a hope-focused approach when talking with families about trauma. It is also some of the most promising work we have for infant and maternal mental health. Can you tell us about why you chose to support NEAR?

Kim: NEAR does something with grace that is both important and difficult. It helps families and providers navigate difficult conversations about trauma, slowly and with compassion. Conversations about early childhood trauma can be very challenging for all involved, which is part of why many infant mental health professionals are invested in ongoing learning and reflective supervision. NEAR makes it possible to integrate some of that skill building and support into the job of being a home visitor. Regardless of their degree or education, all home visiting professionals trained in NEAR get the support they need to navigate hard topics with families and to do so with kindness and love. It is incredible!

Learn more about Perigee Fund’s priorities for Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health.

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As a former preschool teacher, Adrienne Matthias, Start Early Washington Home Visiting Training Manager has always believed in the power of early connections with families. While teaching in Korea in her twenties, she recognized that the most powerful way to reach children was through the parents and caregivers who really had the strongest relationship with them. This awareness of the opportunities to create healthy relationships early on is what eventually led her to home visiting.

Planting the Seeds for Early Intervention

Back in the U.S. teaching preschool, the idea of connecting with families as early as possible became more important to Adrienne, strengthening her view that all parents need support during those first critical years of a child’s life. This led Adrienne to training as a home visitor, because as she sees it, home visiting provides an important resource, partnering with parents in ways that differ from a traditional classroom setting. Home visitors can support parents, building their confidence and providing tools and emotional support during the critical early days of parenting.

It’s not just about watching this child develop, it’s about watching the parent develop and step into their parenting with the knowledge to be able to advocate for their children and see themselves as good, worthy parents.

Adrienne Matthias, Start Early Washington Home Visiting Training Manager
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A Journey to Infant and Toddler Mental Health

As she became a program manager, Adrienne found new meaning in working with home visitors and parent educators through reflective supervision, making time for them to slow down and think more deeply about their practice. By shifting the focus to the home visitor and their needs, it could have significant impact on the delivery of services to families. Adrienne felt a growing desire to learn learning more about infant and toddler mental health, which led her to the Infant Toddler Mental Health certificate program and Portland State University’s Early Childhood Inclusive Education Master’s Degree. Drawn in by the school’s strengths-based and collaborative approach, and infant mental health classes’ exploration of the dynamic between parent-child or caregiver-child relationship in particular, the program reinforced her beliefs of how these interactions profoundly shape a child’s development while impacting the parent’s journey. One that Adrienne sees as a delicate dance that requires understanding, empathy, and advocacy.

The Dance of Parenting

As Adrienne shared, mothers, in particular, often struggle with self-doubt when it comes to parenting. “We tend to focus on our perceived shortcomings rather than celebrating our strengths. Home visiting that supports infant and maternal mental health can step in to bridge this gap. By supporting parents, we empower them to build strong attachment relationships. It’s not just about the child’s growth it’s about the parents’ growth too, and as home visitors, we can be a part of facilitating this transformation firsthand.”

Unseen Impact

Home visitors rarely know the full impact of their work. However, home visitors all have stories that demonstrate the power of the program to support families. Adrienne shares one story of a distressed mother who truly believed she couldn’t handle parenting. Her daughter’s tantrum at a bouncy house left her feeling inadequate and unequipped. By exploring the mother’s strengths, emphasizing and reminding her of the effort she put into creating enriching experiences for her child, despite the challenges of the moment, she was able to recognize that she had persevered through the challenge, and she was able to do it because she knew it was beneficial for her child. Leaning into the strengths-based aspects of the interaction and being able to normalize these emotional moments helps parents recognize their worth.

There are hard things all the time, and it doesn’t mean that you ignore them. The strengths-based approach is how you humanize them and how you hold people in your mind, how you treat people because you are holding them fully as people. That is the most important thing to remember.

Adrienne Matthias, Start Early Washington Home Visiting Training Manager
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The Luxury of Strengths-Based Approaches

In trauma-informed principles, like those at the center of the hope-filled, compassionate NEAR@Home practice for addressing childhood trauma, being strengths-based is essential. Imagine entering someone’s home and focusing on what they’re doing well instead of pointing out flaws. It’s a necessity to be able to see what is going right —one that reveals genuine strengths. When home visitors are able to help parents see the best in themselves, we empower them. It’s not about rigid rules; it’s about acknowledging their efforts. Even after tough experiences, it’s critical to be able to take a step back and appreciate the positives—a parallel process that enriches the practice.

Continuing to Emphasize the Positive

Maternal and infant mental health isn’t just about fixing problems; it’s about celebrating strengths. Home visitors hold a unique position—to witness growth, resilience, and love within families. As Adrienne continues in her role leading Washington’s training efforts and expansion of NEAR trauma-informed practice, she believes in the power and potential of these strengths-based approaches to empower families to build strong and healthy relationships that will last a lifetime.

The mental health of parents plays an important role in shaping the trajectory of their child’s social and emotional well-being.

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We asked Michael Gouterman, our mental health expert, why prioritizing parental mental health is essential for nurturing a healthy environment for children to thrive.

  • Understanding the Impact
    Parents are their children’s first teachers, and it is the quality of parent-child relationships and interactions that create the foundational skills that children need to be successful in school and in life. When parents experience mental health challenges, it can have ripple effects on their children’s development.
  • The Dysregulated World
    Imagine a child born into a world where their caregivers are grappling with their own dysregulation—an environment marked by stress, anxiety or depression. In such circumstances, the ability of caregivers to provide consistent emotional support and regulation may be compromised, impacting the child’s sense of safety and security. Read our tackling tough topics posts on: Racism and Violence
  • The Transmission of Stress
    Stress has a way of affecting parent-child relationships and impacting the way children may perceive the world. When parents struggle with their mental health, children may internalize this stress, leading to challenges in emotional regulation and social and emotional development.
  • Empowering Parents as Advocates
    Recognizing the importance of parental mental health is not about assigning blame, but rather acknowledging the complex interplay between individual well-being and environmental factors. Empowering parents to advocate for their own mental health is paramount, ensuring they have access to resources and support systems to address their needs.
  • Breaking the Cycle
    When we prioritize parental mental health, we can break the cycle of the intergenerational transmission of stress and help create an environment where children can thrive. When parents prioritize their own well-being, and are better equipped to provide the support and stability their children need to navigate life’s challenges.


Helpful Mental Health Resources for Parents

Mindfulness Tips:

  • Check your employee benefits for subscriptions to paid mindfulness and meditation services, such as Calm or Chill Anywhere.
  • Search your phone’s app store for apps that offer free services.
  • Youtube is a great resource for finding free mindfulness and/or meditation sessions of any length.

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Start Early thanks the Illinois General Assembly for approving a Fiscal Year 2025 state budget that includes significant increases in funding for early care and education programs, funding that aligns with Governor JB Pritzker’s multi-year Smart Start Illinois initiative. 

The final budget, approved by the legislature this week, contains nearly $250 million in new state funding for child care, preschool and home visiting services and the Early Intervention (EI) program. It also includes money to fund first-year operations for the newly-created Illinois Department of Early Childhood. 

Despite these needed and appreciated spending increases, Start Early is very disappointed with final appropriation levels of funding for the Early Intervention (EI) program and the Early Childhood Access Consortium for Equity (ECACE) scholarship program. In particular, Start Early had been fighting for a greater increase in EI funding, and we believe the approved budget is inadequate to address the ongoing workforce crisis and historic service delays. 

Illinois FY 2025 budget will benefit children and families by providing considerable funding to several key early learning programs, and we thank Governor JB Pritzker and the General Assembly for their ongoing commitment to children and families, Start Early Vice President of Illinois Policy Ireta Gasner said. We remain deeply concerned, however, that the legislature did not appropriate additional funds beyond the governor’s proposal for Early Intervention and ECACE scholarships. Timely services for infants and toddlers with disabilities and developmental delays and a well-prepared and compensated workforce are cornerstones of an equitable early childhood system. This budget is a big step forward, but much more work is needed.”

Here are the specifics: 

  • $158.5 million (27.3%) increase for the child care system at Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) for Smart Start Workforce Grants, Quality Contracts, apprenticeships and Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) caseload growth 
  • $75 million (11.1%) increase for the Early Childhood Block Grant at Illinois State Board of Education for expansion of Prevention Initiative center-based and home visiting programs, Preschool for All and Preschool for All Expansion programs 
  • $6 million (3.8%) increase for the Early Intervention (EI) program at IDHS to accommodate caseload growth, but no additional funding for provider rate increases 
  • $5 million (21.8%) increase for evidence-based home visiting programs at IDHS to expand access to services and address compensation improvements 
  • $5 million for the ECACE scholarship program, but no additional funding to ensure candidates currently receiving the scholarship can finish their programs 
  • $14.2 million in operational funding for the new Illinois Department of Early Childhood 

Record levels of service delays continue to plague the EI system – delays linked to a shrinking workforce. Without annual rate increases, providers will continue to leave the program, meaning more infants and toddlers with disabilities and developmental delays will wait for months to receive the life-changing services they are entitled to by law. 

In addition, nearly 2,500 current ECACE scholarship recipients will need further scholarship support to complete their degrees. The lack of early childhood educators has resulted in programs and classrooms closing – limiting the opportunity for families to locate effective services for their children. 

Several other important measures impacting the early care and education system – and the families and workforce who are a part of it – have been approved by the legislature this session, including: 

  • SB1 (Sen. Lightford, Rep. Canty) – authorizes the creation of the Department of Early Childhood 
  • HB4959 (Rep. Gabel, Sen. Sims) – the FY 2025 budget implementation bill, which, among other provisions, codifies into law the ECACE scholarship program 
  • HB4951 (Rep. Burke, Sen. Villanueva) – a revenue omnibus bill, which, among other provisions, establishes a permanent state Child Tax Credit for families eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit and have children under age 12 
  • HB5142 (Rep. Gabel, Sen. Collins) – requires, among other provisions, private health insurers to cover all pregnancy, postpartum and newborn care services provided by perinatal doulas or licensed certified professional midwives, including home births, home visits and support during labor. Insurance companies would need to cover home visits by board-certified lactation consultants, including the cost of recommended breast pumps, breastfeeding supplies and feeding aids. 
  • HB4491 (Rep. Faver Dias, Sen. Johnson) – allows a child care director or qualified early childhood educator to be present during the opening or closing of the child care program 
  • SB2675 (Sen. Villivalam, Rep. Croke) – expands eligibility to the Early Childhood Construction Grant (ECCG) program for not-for-profit early childhood providers that rent or lease from another not-for-profit entity

We expect the governor to sign and approve this final budget package and SB1 soon.

This suite of policy changes and funding increases was made possible by the commitment and diligent efforts of advocates across the state. Throughout the spring legislative session, parents, educators and advocates contacted state legislators thousands of times on behalf of Illinois families and those who serve them. Given there is more work ahead to address the critical gaps in funding for EI and ECACE, we and our advocacy partners look forward to working in the coming months to be sure both the administration and General Assembly understand the urgency of these problems. 

Activities and experiences play a vital role in shaping a child’s mental health and well-being. Our mental health expert, Michael Gouterman, shares how to create a positive mindset in your child through everyday activities.

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Here are some simple yet powerful activities that can cultivate positive mental health experiences:

  • Establishing Rituals and Routines
    Rituals and routines provide a sense of predictability and stability for young children, helping them feel safe and secure in their environment. Consider incorporating the following rituals and routines into your daily life:

    • Morning and bedtime routines: Establish consistent rituals for waking up and going to bed, such as reading a bedtime story or sharing highlights from the day.
    • Mealtime rituals: Create special traditions around mealtime, such as setting the table together or sharing a favorite family recipe.
    • Transition rituals: Develop rituals for transitions, such as saying goodbye before leaving for school or welcoming your child home after a day apart. ​Don’t be afraid to be creative and make your own unique rituals as a family.

By consistently practicing these rituals and routines, you can instill a sense of familiarity and connection in your child’s daily life, promoting a feeling of safety and predictability.

  • Exploring New Experiences
    While routines provide a sense of security, it’s also important to expose children to new experiences and challenges to support their growth and development. Here are some ways to encourage exploration and curiosity:

By introducing new experiences in a supportive and encouraging environment, you can help your child develop confidence, resilience and a sense of curiosity about the world around them.

  • Cultivating Connection
    Building strong connections with caregivers, family members and peers is essential for promoting positive mental health in early childhood. Here are some ways to foster meaningful connections:

    • Quality time: Set aside dedicated time each day to spend one-on-one with your child, engaging in activities they enjoy and showing genuine interest in their thoughts and feelings. Even for the busiest of schedules, dedicating a small amount time together can have a tremendous impact.
    • Family traditions: Create special traditions and rituals that bring your family together, such as movie nights, game nights or weekend outings.
    • Social interactions: Encourage your child to interact with peers through playdates, preschool or community groups, providing opportunities for friendship and social development.


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Mental health is a vital aspect of our overall well-being and serves as a strong base to navigate the ebbs and flows of our day to day lives with resiliency. But what exactly is mental health, and why is it so important in early childhood development? Our mental health expert, Michael Gouterman, shares his expert insight on understanding mental health in early childhood.

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What is mental health?

At its core, mental health encompasses social, emotional, and psychological well-being. It’s about how we think, feel, and behave, and how we navigate the world around us.

Providing safe environments for children, where they can build relationships and connections with their caregivers and loved ones, has a positive impact on their mental health. These early interactions lay the groundwork for a child to learn and feel a sense of safety and security in the world.

In these safe and nurturing environments, children begin to develop what psychologists refer to as a secure attachment which Influences how children relate to others throughout their lives.

Why is mental health important in early childhood development?

At Start Early, we know that the foundation of a child’s social and emotional competence begins forming in the prenatal relationship and continues to be laid the very first days, months, and years of life, shaped by the interactions babies have with their parents and other caring adults. Babies thrive when they are securely attached to someone special—their mother, father or other primary caregiver—who knows and responds consistently and reliably to their needs.

Mental health is a lifelong journey that is shaped by our experiences, relationships and environments. We know from research that quality programs for infants, toddlers and their families can make a significant impact on their lives, a difference that can last a lifetime.

As we embark on this journey of exploration and understanding, let’s remember that mental health is not a destination but a continuum. By nurturing our own mental well-being and supporting those around us, we have the opportunity to build a stronger world for everyone to thrive as their best selves.

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Authentically and meaningfully engaging families in systems design and improvement work requires careful attention to how we value the expertise and lived experiences of these critical partners. Oftentimes, there is a contrast in our espoused beliefs and actual behaviors (explicitly or implicitly). How conscious are we of the disconnect? What tools and frameworks exist to help us as systems leaders on our journeys to be more genuine in our beliefs and equitable and liberatory in our practice? Here are some key insights from Start Early Consulting’s work focused on centering family and provider voice.

Systems leaders aiming to engage families more equitably and effectively in systems design and improvement efforts need to assess their progress towards meeting these goals. Start Early has developed a self-assessment tool focused on cultivating family leadership in systems building work through the establishment of Family Councils. Framed as a continuum for developing capacities, the tool incorporates tenets of the Spectrum of Community Engagement to Ownership framework.

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Download our new self-assessment tool focused on cultivating family leadership in systems building work through the establishment of Family Councils.

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Centering family voice and fostering genuine co-creation spaces is complex work that will not happen overnight; it is evolutionary. And giving ourselves grace, knowing we are all in different places and that where we fall at any point in time will depend on various, ever-changing contexts (i.e., as often as we engage new families as partners in the work), is necessary. The promise of nurturing sustainable conditions for change is held within one key, foundational step — shifting mindsets to value families as experts, in words and action. A few relevant reflections from our team’s experiences providing support to advocate and public sector leaders seeking transformational change within and across their early childhood systems follow:

  1. Shifting mindsets to acknowledge and leverage the expertise families hold regarding what best meets their diverse and unique needs is critical.
    When we approach engaging families from a deficit perspective (e.g., families are unknowing of what quality is or dismissing cultural contexts that also shape these definitions; families are unaware of resources or “hard to reach”), we consequently message that families are the problem and WE hold the answers to solving these challenges.
  2. Families have valuable insight and perspective towards creating high-impact and sustainable solutions.
    Acknowledging that most systems, by design, limit access and opportunities for families to thrive, shifting our mindsets to prioritize families’ input better prepares us for the important and complex work of questioning dominant perceptions of quality and learning what the true barriers to access are. When we focus on addressing these root issues — WITH families — we get closer to achieving transformational change.
  3. Families are valued as experts and the key drivers of systems change when their voices are centered and they are empowered and supported to LEAD co-creation efforts.
    Embracing this mindset and enacting aligned practices requires positive and trusting relationships and restructuring power dynamics (e.g. shared governance). These conditions prime us for critical and generative dialogue.

Need extra support with equitably centering family voice in your systems change efforts? Contact our team to learn more.

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On Thursday, May 9, 2024, the Illinois House of Representatives approved Senate Bill 1 (SB1), legislation to authorize the creation of the Illinois Department of Early Childhood. An initiative of Governor JB Pritzker, the proposal, which passed the Illinois Senate last month, aims to improve access to critical early learning and care services by better aligning and coordinating programs, data and policies. SB1 is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford and State Representative Mary Beth Canty. We anticipate the Governor will sign the bill into law sometime this summer. 

“Start Early applauds the Illinois General Assembly for approving such consequential legislation,” Ireta Gasner, Vice President of Illinois Policy at Start Early said. “The state is now committed, more than ever, to transform state government so it can provide the range of services young children and families need to thrive. We thank Governor Pritzker, Deputy Governor Martin Torres, and their team for leading this work—work that’s only just begun.” 

Once enacted, the bill will require the new Department, starting in July of 2026, to administer the Child Care Assistance Program, the Early Intervention program, evidence-based home visiting programs, as well as infant, toddler and preschool programs currently funded by the State Board of Education. It will also license and monitor child care programs. 

“Passing this bill was a team effort, though every team has its stars,” said Jonathan Doster, Start Early’s Illinois Legislative Director. “Thank you to Leader Lightford and Representative Canty for their commitment to young children and their dogged leadership as we moved this significant proposal through the legislative process.” 

Start Early looks forward to sharing with state leaders our knowledge and expertise developed over years through our work providing high-quality early childhood programming and advancing child-focused policies in Illinois, particularly as decisions about the governance and design of our early learning and care system are being made. Together, as the governor often says, we will make Illinois the best state in the nation in which to raise young children.