We are setting a path for expanding and improving early learning and care programs and services in Chicago through research- and community-driven policies. Through this Chicago-focused Early/Head Start Research Agenda, we hope to:

  • Elevate the voices and priorities of the communities that we serve
  • Partner with staff internally at Start Early through Research Practice Partnerships to support data needs and practices, and externally with teachers, parents, and community partners through field facing projects to support program progress
  • Drive collaboration by revamping and reinforcing the ways that Start Early’s local, state and national efforts align

Key Components

Through connecting with Early/Head Start program staff and parents to learn about their areas of interest to help support Early/Head Start programs in Chicago, three priorities emerged that create the backbone for the Chicago Early/Head Start Research Agenda:

  • Advancing recruitment and enrollment practices for Early/Head Start programs
  • Exploring additional ways to support the Early/Head Start workforce
  • Improving inclusion and equity in classrooms

This research agenda is a living document. There are potential research questions proposed that fit into the three categories above, but we are committed to connect with staff and parents in Early/Head Start programs throughout the development, implementation, and interpretation phases of projects that emerge from this work. We will use their expertise to guide research questions and priorities.

We are interested in connecting with partners and funders currently doing or interested in doing similar work. Together we will learn from staff and families to make improvements to early childhood education and care for everyone!

Research & Evaluation Team & Collaborators

The Educare Research Agenda on Advancing Racial Equity

The Educare Research Agenda on Advancing Racial Equity is connected to the Chicago Early Head Start Agenda through our shared commitment to improving equity in practice and policy for Early Head Start and Head Start programs. As teams, we are looking to collaborate on research projects, specifically focused in Chicago, that are informed by family and staff voice to lead to actionable change in early childhood care and education.

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Home visiting is a voluntary service designed to ensure that families with young children have the supports and resources they want and need to thrive. They aim to strengthen caregiver-child relationships; promote maternal, infant, and early childhood physical, mental, and emotional health; and link families to community resources and services through cross system collaboration.

The Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) presents an opportunity to strengthen prevention efforts like home visiting and to expand them to more families. FFPSA is federal legislation that reorients child welfare towards prevention and seeks to reduce the use of foster care. Since we know the power of home visiting in preventing child welfare involvement, bringing it to scale could be critical in fulfilling Family First’s goal. Many states are centering their Family First prevention plans around voluntary home visiting, and some are creating pathways for families to access these services in their communities, without child welfare involvement.

In a new brief, experts from Start Early and Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago outline ways to scale up home visiting capacity through Family First. The brief explores key opportunities that have been identified as Family First is implemented and provides recommendations to strengthen collaboration between child welfare and home visiting programs at the federal, state, and local levels, including:

  • Scale Up Home Visiting for Additional Capacity
  • Partner and Collaborate Across Child Welfare & Home Visiting for Collective Impact
  • Implement Home Visiting to Model Fidelity
  • Orient Philosophies and Policies around Prevention
  • Support a Diverse Community-based Workforce that Meets Families’ Needs

Center Family Engagement

At the 2022 National Home Visiting Summit hosted by Start Early, there was a strong emphasis on the connections between home visiting and FFPSA. The focus on Family First at the Summit reflects the interest across the country to further lean into systems partnerships between home visiting and child welfare agencies to create structural conditions that provide access to supports without stigma or blame. In this way, we can acknowledge and address the inequities that harm children and families of color and lead to further disparities and disproportionate representation in the child welfare system. Read the full report.

Learn more about Start Early’s resources and learning opportunities for the home visiting field.

Thank you to Yasmin Grewal-Kök, Clare Anderson, Anna Gurolnick, Charlotte Goodell, and Clinton Boyd who all contributed to this report.

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Many states and communities are working hard to create cross-sector early childhood systems that children and families experience as equitable, supportive, accessible, and high-quality. Start Early and Child Trends have partnered to identify what building blocks are needed to create such systems.

Using a human-centered design approach, between 2021 – 2023, we spoke to state systems’ representatives, researchers, family advocates, and technical assistance providers from across the country to understand how their systems were working to promote equity and center families’ experiences, and what resources they may need to engage in such work. To help augment these discussions, we listened to recorded interviews and reviewed more than 25 early childhood systems frameworks, toolkits, and action plans from multiple organizations, states, and communities across the country.

The briefs in this series, called Conversation Starters, offer a guiding framework that outlines an approach to co-defining the success of an early childhood system in terms of how it is experienced by families. The systems builders consulted in this publication each expressed a clear vision for the kind of system they were trying to co-create with families and what they wanted families to experience when interacting with their system. But none of them—not even those from systems that are deservedly held up as shining examples—felt that they had it all figured out. They continue to strive for new ways to make their system more family-centric, more equitable, and more transparent.

Read the Conversation Starters

Dive deeper into this work by reading Conversation Starter #1 – Defining a Family-Centric Early Childhood System and Conversation Starter #2 – Authentic Family Engagement in Family-Centric Early Childhood Systems Building.


Note: Maia C. Connors was Start Early’s lead author/researcher and partner with the Child Trends team. This Conversation Starter was produced with support from the Pritzker Children’s Initiative. We are grateful to our respondents: both the systems builders and the researchers and technical assistance providers who support them. We also thank Sarah Daily, Colleen Murphy, Judy Reidt-Parker, Sheetal Singh, and Kathy Stohr for their feedback on earlier drafts. A particular thank you to Katherine Paschall, the lead author from Child Trends for her partnership in this work. Maia Connors was with Start Early at the time this piece was written. At the time of publication, she was with Northwestern University’s Institute for Policy Research.

Regardless of zip code or family income, when welcoming a new baby, all parents and families could benefit from additional encouragement and support. That is why Illinois is working to build the necessary public infrastructure and funding systems to scale Universal Newborn Support Systems (UNSS) that provide free, voluntary short-term home visiting and referral services to every family at the birth of a new baby to make connections to the supportive services and resources they may need and want.

While universal newborn support services are common in other high-income nations, it is still an emerging concept in the U.S. Scaling UNSS in Illinois will require a cohesive messaging to build greater awareness and support for these services and systems, which is why Start Early has created a messaging toolkit to support advocates, systems and program leaders, other family-facing providers, and lawmaker champions in communicating the story of UNSS, including explaining why these services are critically important to the future well-being of Illinois families and children.

We hope that these resources will be helpful to you as you share information about UNSS with your communities, and advocate for greater support for UNSS in our state.

Universal Newborn Support Systems

Messaging Toolkit

Successfully scaling UNSS to additional Illinois communities, and eventually statewide, requires cohesive messaging to build awareness of UNSS interventions, the opportunity and necessity to leverage dedicated funding streams to sustain these systems, and the connection between UNSS expansion and to larger state vision for Illinois children and families.

The resources contained in this toolkit are intended to support advocates, state systems leaders, UNSS program leaders, other family-facing providers, and lawmaker champions in communicating the story of UNSS, including explaining why these services are critically important to the future well-being of Illinois families and children. This toolkit is model-agnostic; it aims to speak generally about UNSS as an approach rather than focusing on particular programs or models, recognizing that individual communities will need flexibility to choose and implement models that fit their particular needs. In building this toolkit, Start Early hopes that the resources can serve as a jumping-off point for various stakeholders to build upon the messages and materials within for outreach with additional audiences.

  • Read–Familiarize yourself with the general framing of UNSS
  • Add–Adapt and make additions that speak to your particular audience or perspective
  • Share–Share these general materials alongside more detailed or nuanced messaging

Informational Videos


Parent Perspectives on UNSS

Team & Collaborators

This report was prepared thanks to many individuals and organizations that generously provided time and expertise, research, consultation and other supports. Special thanks to: Brian Rolling, Vincent Alvarez, Claudia Valencia, Tajae Sutton, Samantha Price, Kali Huber, Claire Lankford, Dr. Shelly Shallat, Dr. Mofesola Modupe, Family Connects International, the Chicago Department of Public Health, EverThrive Illinois, and the Illinois Department of Human Services.

Special thanks to: This toolkit and the messaging materials contained within were prepared with generous support from the Steans Family Foundation.

We are excited to share our annual 2022 Year in Review, which showcases and celebrates accomplishments and growth from the last fiscal year (July 1, 2021 – June 30, 2022).

In 2022, we celebrated our 40th anniversary and continued to expand and refine our services to children and families.

Through our innovative and comprehensive work at local, state and federal levels, Start Early impacted nearly every facet of the early education system with a deliberate focus on reaching more young children through quality early learning and care experiences that can set them up for a lifetime of health and success.

2022 Year in Review

This work would not have been possible without the collaboration and efforts of our partners. We are thankful to all of our supporters over the past 40 years for their help in making this work a reality. We are champions for early learning, and together, we can transform lives.

The workforce shortage gripping the nation is acutely felt in the early childhood field and must be addressed to realize bold, equitable, comprehensive systems reform. One essential strategy to address this workforce crisis is building competitive and more equitable compensation systems.

To support states, Start Early researched equitable compensation strategies in Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington State and the District of Columbia, with a focus on the development and implementation of wage scales. The resulting publication offers lessons and key insights from these systems leading innovative and effective policy and advocacy efforts in pursuit of equitable compensation for the early childhood workforce.

View Report

Key Findings

Five key lessons emerged from Start Early’s policy analysis and interviews with state leaders and advocates. These lessons, though not exhaustive, can inform both the “what” and “how” of states’ pursuit of more equitable compensation for the cross-sector workforce.

  1. Ensure transparency at every major decision-point
  2. Identify a comprehensive framework that supports the current workforce
  3. Consider multiple mechanisms for implementation
  4. Use short-term solutions while building long-term approaches and infrastructure
  5. Employ an inside-outside approach

Start Early Consulting

Start Early Consulting is a deeply experienced, mission-driven team with a long history of driving change within the early childhood field. We help systems evolve with highly customizable support, inviting leaders to leverage our consultants as strategic advisors or to develop and execute implementation plans.

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The 2022 Illinois Policy Accomplishments report details progress we helped the state achieve toward advancing our Illinois Policy Agenda. In some places, Start Early may have led a charge, in other places we contributed research and advocacy to help advance shared goals of many stakeholders. While many challenges remain to be solved in our fragmented early learning system, this year’s report details the many ways that tangible progress is being made to improve the experience of families and children and providers.

2022 Illinois Policy Accomplishments

Download Our Accomplishments Document

Each year the Illinois General Assembly passes legislation that can have an impact on families, or the organizations in our communities providing early childhood or related supportive services to families. Start Early leads on some of these legislative changes, often in coalition with others, and in other cases we contribute our early childhood lens and expertise to support the efforts of another lead organization. The 2022 Legislative Summary provides a listing of those bills that became law in the spring 2022 session that we thought would be relevant to families with young children and the field.  We hope that this is a resource you will download and share with colleagues and families alike. We are happy to provide additional information about any of these initiatives or connect you with other advocates where needed. Initiatives that were led by Start Early are marked *. 

Equitable inclusion for young children with disabilities and developmental delays in early childhood opportunities is supported by both a human rights framework and evidence-based research. Being meaningfully included as a member of society is a human right that all children deserve and should be able to access. Additionally, there is clear research on the benefits of inclusion for both young children with disabilities and their typically developing peers in early childhood programs and services. Despite this, it is well documented that nationally, young children with disabilities and delays and their families continue to face challenges with accessing inclusive early childhood services individualized to their needs in all settings, particularly young children of color.

To address this, the Alliance for IDEA Policy Initiative and other national partners developed these federal policy recommendations to advance equity and inclusion for young children with disabilities and developmental delays across the early childhood system.

Key Recommendations

We identified key recommendations across five areas:

  1. Adequate and Robust Funding
  2. Stable and Diverse Workforce
  3. Governance that Enhances Coordination and Collaboration
  4. Family- and Child-Centered Screening, Eligibility, and Evaluation
  5. Equitable and Inclusive Services

Policy Team & Collaborators

Special thanks to: Thank you to the families, providers, and organizations who gave their time to host and participate in a feedback session to inform the federal policy recommendations as well as completed the survey; our fellow national partners who provided their critical input and time to this effort: Child Care Aware® of America, Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI) and POWER-PAC IL, Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc., Division for Early Childhood, Education Commission of the States, Education Trust, First Five Years Fund, Infant and Toddler Coordinators Association, National Association for the Education of Young Children, National Association of Family Child Care, National Association of State Directors of Special Education, National Head Start Association, and Zero to Three; the Alliance for IDEA Policy Initiative national and state partners

The Challenge

Without an established Quality Rating & Improvement System, Mississippi leaders sought a common framework for quality to better ensure positive child outcomes among their diverse early childhood education providers. While researching options, the successful outcomes of Educare Schools caught their eye.

Read Full Case Study

With support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, four Mississippi trainers with diverse early childhood experience completed The Essential Practices of Educare’s Train-the-Trainer program and launched a unique, state-wide professional learning model. They hoped to:

  • Introduce common quality standards across the state
  • Encourage educators from Head Start, public pre-K, and childcare to learn from each other
  • Increase positive outcomes for the majority of Mississippi’s youngest learners

“We like that The Essential Practices of Educare is detailed, practical, and easily understood… It makes people more curious about the context in which learning is happening.” – Holly Spivey, Head Start Collaboration Director & Education Policy Advisor in the Office of Governor Tate Reeves

The Impact: Engaged Educators Increase Quality and Equity by Cross-pollinating Ideas

The Mississippi training team chose Start Early’s Essential Practices of Educare because it creates space for educators to respond to and get curious about quality. They attribute the early success of their efforts to five guiding principles:

Principle One: Meeting people where they are at is critical to training success.

“What’s unique about The Essential Practices of Educare is that it’s a foundation that a lot of people need. It’s a very relatable PD that gives them opportunities to really talk about what they’re doing and how they can change, or how they can redirect what they’re doing to make it better.” – Amye Hoskins, Mississippi Training Team, Professional Development Specialist, Mississippi Dept of Education, Office of Early Childhood

Principle Two: Equal access to training creates equity among educators.

“Typically childcare doesn’t receive as much PD as the normal public school teacher. So we want to make sure The Essential Practices of Educare is accessible across the state and allows everyone to have the same opportunity.” – Amye Hoskins

“We didn’t originally think about The Essential Practices of Educare as a workforce development equity move, but that’s naturally what’s happening.” – Holly Spivey

Principle Three: Training educators from diverse programs at the same time increases engagement and creates a cross-pollination of best practices across the state.

“We have people from all parts of the state learning from each other as a group. We’ll say, ‘Tell us what’s happening and how do you overcome that challenge,’ so they can listen to people across the state– and then they can take it back to their classroom.” – Tamara Smith, Mississippi Training Team, Professional Development Specialist at Midtown Partners & Childcare Director at Little Samaritan Montessori

Principle Four: A flexible professional development design is essential for localized, authentic conversations about quality.

“I’ve often been surprised with where people take this foundational learning and what they notice. The Essential Practices of Educare has made them more curious about the context in which learning is happening.” – Holly Spivey

Principle Five: When a diverse training team facilitates The Essential Practices of Educare, it increases value and insight for participants.

“As trainers, we are unique – by representing childcare, the Department of Education, and Early Head Start, we relate better with the people on the ground. I understand where you all are coming from and your stress In the classroom …but here are things you can implement that will work.” – Tamara Smith

“Our Start Early practice consultant has been a godsend for us. She’s always willing to assist and give advice; that helped us really understand each other and our vision of what we wanted to accomplish as a training team.” – Amye Hoskins

Looking Ahead

The Mississippi Training Team wants to expand access to The Essential Practices of Educare, reaching as many educators across the state as possible. And they have their sights set on taking their training support to the next level. Soon they hope to create a model that allows them to follow trainings with customized technical assistance to ensure participants feel supported as they apply their learning to daily practice.

Read Full Case Study

Complete this form to read our case study detailing how the training team used The Essential Practices of Educare to create a common understanding of what high-quality education looks like across Mississippi’s early childhood systems.

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