Home visiting connects expectant parents, new caregivers, and their young children with a support person, called a home visitor. The home visitor meets regularly with the family, develops a relationship with them, and supports them to achieve their goals and meet their needs. Additional funding is needed to address the significant unmet need for these home visiting services across the country.

To reach the thousands of additional families who could benefit from home visiting, we must increase support for culturally relevant and family-centered models. A new report – “Community-Based Home Visiting: Fidelity to Families, Commitment to Outcomes” – delves into the unique strengths and challenges of community-based home visiting models, whose design and measures of success intentionally center the perspectives of the families and communities they serve. These models are often developed by those with experience with the unique cultures, strengths, and solutions of the community they live in and aim to serve.

This report summarizes themes from listening sessions with 30+ community-based home visiting models from across the country. It offers policy and funding recommendations that would improve support for these models and therefore families’ access to home visiting that best meets their goals.

Key Recommendations

Five key themes discussed in the report include:

  1. Family-Centered Design Yields Continuous Quality Improvement
  2. Research, Data, and Outcomes Must Be More Effectively and Inclusively Defined
  3. Reclaiming Culture and Advancing Language Access Improve Family Experiences and Outcomes
  4. Flexibility Is Necessary to Serve the Community and Enhance Outcomes
  5. Structural Barriers to Funding Impact Sustainability and Accessibility

If you’re interested in more information on this topic and having a conversation with one of our policy experts, please reach out to us at Advocacy@StartEarly.org.

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Contributors & Funders

Celebrating Juneteenth is not only about acknowledging the end of slavery but also about recognizing the enduring resilience, culture, and contributions of Black people in America. This celebration is a reminder of the ongoing fight for equality and justice, a fight that continues to shape our society and our organization’s mission. Juneteenth is a time of profound significance, a day to recognize the progress made, and to celebrate the extraordinary cultural heritage that has emerged from this history.

Celebrating Juneteenth with Your Child

Engaging children in the celebration of Juneteenth is a wonderful way to honor this significant day. Here are some meaningful ways to celebrate Juneteenth with your child:
  1. Learn Together: Read books and watch videos that introduce children to the history and significance of Juneteenth. This helps them understand the importance of the day and the legacy of resilience and strength in the Black community.
  2. Cultural Exploration: Explore African American culture through music, art, and food. This can be a fun and immersive way for children to appreciate the rich cultural heritage.
  3. Storytelling: Share stories of African American leaders and heroes who have shaped history. Highlight the achievements and contributions of Black individuals in various fields.
  4. Community Events: Participate in local Juneteenth events and celebrations. Community gatherings can provide a sense of unity and collective celebration.
  5. Reflect and Discuss: Encourage open conversations about history, equality, and justice. These discussions can help children develop a deeper understanding of the ongoing fight for civil rights.

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At Start Early, we believe that fostering an inclusive culture where all voices and experiences are valued is crucial for the healthy development of children. Celebrating Juneteenth is a powerful way to instill these values in the next generation, helping children take pride in their identity and appreciate the unique contributions they bring to the world.

By celebrating Juneteenth with your child, you are not only honoring a critical moment in history but also paving the way for a future rooted in understanding, acceptance, and equality.

Resources to Help Celebrate and Honor Juneteenth

Here are age-appropriate book recommendations and a celebratory Juneteenth song to share with your little one:

Read:

Listen:

  • Fyütch and the Alphabet Rockers created Juneteenth Song for Kids, a song about what Juneteenth is and why we celebrate Black freedom and liberation.

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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:

Watch:

Read:

Listen:

Additional Resources:

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Family engagement and leadership is crucial to building community systems that are equitable, supportive, accessible, and of high quality for all children and families. For community system leaders, it is beneficial to include families in policy making and systems design, as families can offer firsthand experiences navigating existing services and provide invaluable insights into the shortcomings of the current system. On May 29th, we hosted a webinar in partnership with the Children’s Defense Fund, titled: “Family Voice & Leadership: How to Elevate and Center Family Voice in Community Systems Building.” Panelists included Diana M. Rauner, PhD, President of Start Early and Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, President of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), along with family leaders and practitioners.

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It is essential to involve families in the building and improvement of the system itself. This means inviting families to co-create programs, policies, and systems as equal partners, working side-by-side with public sector leaders and educators. At Start Early, we believe the best way to do this is by teaching systems leaders and families how to work together using the principles of human-centered design (HCD). HCD helps systems consciously create programs that replenish relationships with families and communities, rather than extract a toll from them. One strategy that leverages human-centered design to build comprehensive, equitable, birth to five systems is Family Centered Design from Start Early’s Innovation Lab. Through the Family Centered Design experience, families gain the skills and confidence to make positive changes in the policies, services and systems that affect their lives, and systems leaders gain insight into the families’ lived experience, needs and behaviors.

Finally, system leaders and advocates must deploy strategies to intentionally partner with families – going beyond conducting surveys, focus groups, or interviews to ensure strong family influence and power in decision-making. Examples include forming a parent committee to influence policy and programming decisions, and/or including family leaders on a team to support implementation. And to enable family leadership in these efforts, supports such as stipends, travel reimbursement, and interpretative services should be provided.

Need extra support with promoting family leadership and effectively partnering with families? Start Early Consulting invites systems leaders to leverage our consultants as strategic advisors with this and other work toward a more equitable early childhood system. Please reach out to us at Consulting@StartEarly.org to learn more.

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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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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Start Early’s vision is for every child in the City of Chicago to have access to a continuum of high-quality early childhood services before birth and through age five that is equitable and culturally, linguistically and ability- responsive. Our work is cemented in our commitment to advancing racial equity and heavily informed by research, practice and the lived experiences of the families and professionals we serve at Start Early. Our latest Chicago policy agenda, covering city fiscal years 2024 through 2027, lays out our vision for policy and systems change that will promote access to quality early care and learning programs and services and effectively meet the needs of the children and families who need them most.

Our Goals

Start Early organizes its work in Chicago toward a sustainable, equitable, and accessible system of high-quality early care and learning around four primary systems-level goals. These goals include:

Strong Infrastructure

  • Promote state-level policies and regulations that promote an inclusive, well-resourced early childhood system in Chicago.

  • Grow city funding for Chicago’s early childhood programs, system infrastructure and supports.

    • Deepen city investment in an early childhood local collaboration system with defined functions connected to aligned, effective regional and state council infrastructure.

  • Establish a coherent, consolidated early childhood administrative/governance structure in the city of Chicago, centering the experiences of families and providers, especially those families furthest from opportunities and with the most complex circumstances.

    • Strengthen the Every Child Ready Chicago public-private advisory and other policy making tables to improve bi-directional communication across families, communities and system leaders.

    • Promote early childhood, bilingual, and special education expertise on public policy-making bodies, including the Chicago Board of Education and City Council.

    • Improve the mechanisms by which providers receive public funds to preserve the mixed-delivery system of school- and community-based programs and provide greater stability and adequacy.

  • Establish a system to provide inclusive special education services to children with disabilities in early care and learning programs across all settings.

    • Work with Chicago Public Schools to ensure delivery of special education services in community-based early childhood programs.

  • Promote the sustainability and expansion of a city-wide system for Universal Newborn Screening and Support services.

    • Identify public and private funding for and ensure integration of Family Connects Chicago into broader prenatal-to-three health and early learning services.

  • Strengthen early childhood data systems, capacity, and the utilization of data in policy/decision making.

    • Promote sustainability of the Chicago Early Childhood Integrated Data System (CECIDS) and the Early Childhood Research Alliance of Chicago (EC-REACH).

Well-designed and administered programs and services

Early Intervention

  • Increase number of Chicago children served in the Early Intervention program, with a focus on children under age 1 and children who meet automatic eligibility criteria.

  • Improve the process of transitioning children from Early Intervention to Special Education.

  • Strengthen direct communication with providers and families to increase active engagement in improving the system and their ability to advocate for their children.

Early Childhood Block Grant

  • Ensure the supply of adequately funded early childhood slots in a range of settings (including full-day, full-year), particularly in areas of highest need.

  • Increase equitable distribution of funds and program slots across Chicago Public Schools, community-based programs, and family child care.

  • Increase supply of adequately funded center-based slots for children birth-three.

Child Care

  • Improve supply and quality of center- and home-based child care, with a focus on infant-toddler slots and inclusion of children with delays or disabilities.

Home Visiting & Doula Services

  • Raise the profile of and strengthen the role of home visitors and doulas in the broader mixed delivery system of early care and learning.

  • Improve family participation rates in home visiting and doula programs through increased public awareness of the program and supporting the development of new models or promising practices to better meet family and community needs.

Head Start & Early Head Start

  • Increase family enrollment and participation in Chicago’s Head Start and Early Head Start programs.

  • Increase the availability of center-based Early Head Start slots.

  • Improve alignment, collaboration, and cohesion across Chicago’s Early Head Start and Head Start grant recipients.

Thriving, representative workforce

  • Increase recruitment and retention of early childhood professionals, including those with specialized skills in bilingual and special education.

    • Increase compensation with a focus on pay parity and competitive benefits between community-based providers and Chicago Public Schools teachers.

    • Strengthen opportunities for professional development, reflective supervision, and infant and early childhood mental health consultation.

    • Strengthen the perception and reputation of the early childhood field by partnering with city agencies to promote early learning careers as desirable for youth.

  • Increase credential, degree, license, and endorsement attainment for the early childhood field, including in bilingual and special education.

    • Expand access to the Chicago Early Learning Workforce Scholarship and other supports for candidates.

Healthy, safe and economically secure families

  • Strengthen the alignment and integration of the health and early care and learning systems.

    • Inform and support policies and initiatives that promote safe and healthy early care and learning environments.

    • Increase access to culturally and linguistically responsive health care for families with young children and pregnant people, including preventive and specialty care, mental health and substance use recovery care.

    • Improve access to public and private health insurance for families with young children and pregnant people.

  • Increase economic supports for families with young children, including paid family and medical leave, access to public benefits and tax credits.

  • Inform and support policies and initiatives that promote safe and healthy neighborhoods, housing and environments and positive social and community supports.

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) released its next installation of Kindergarten Individual Development Survey (KIDS) data, providing a snapshot of the skills young children had as they entered kindergarten in the 2022-2023 school year. The COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult to implement the tool and collect the valuable information it provides, but the data the state gathered makes it plain that while COVID-19 disruptions have had an impact, we are heading back to pre-pandemic readiness levels.

As noted in the recent KIDS report, 30% of all students in Illinois demonstrate Kindergarten readiness in all three developmental areas (social and emotional development, language and literacy development, and math), a steady increase that puts the state slightly above pre-pandemic levels. Indeed, since the launch of KIDS in 2017-2018, and despite pandemic challenges, the percentage of students rated “Kindergarten ready” in all three developmental areas has increased by 6 percentage points, reflecting a positive upward trend over time.

 

 

While state-wide numbers reflect improvement over time, the percentage of students demonstrating Kindergarten readiness in all three domains varies widely across lines of income, language and learning style. Persistent early gaps between student groups underscore the need for targeted support both during the early years, and in the early primary grades – particularly for students identified as English Learners. Currently implementation challenges exist to assess and identify English Learners but this implementation issue is being addressed by the KIDS Advisory Committee.

Other researchers are beginning to investigate whether and how KIDS relates to later academic performance. A new report from the Illinois Workforce and Education Research Collaborative (IWERC) concludes that KIDS scores are predictive of 3rd grade test scores in Math and English language arts (ELA). Yet, even with similar Kindergarten Readiness scores, Black and Latinx students are less likely to be proficient in 3rd grade math and ELA compared to White students.1

Some of these upward trends are encouraging, but persistent gaps require further work and study in the next few years. To address these gaps, assessment directors and school and district leaders should support administrators and teachers by reducing the amount of costly and redundant kindergarten readiness assessments, promoting the importance of a play-based environment in kindergarten, refering districts to KIDS coaches so they can acquire resources for implementing play-based learning, and ensuring there is an appropriate and full implementation of KIDS. It is too soon to draw any connections or conclusions, but we will note that these recent, modest increases coincide with the first year of Governor Pritzker’s Smart Start IL plan – a multi-year effort to increase funding for early childhood over a period of four years. The administration also plans to create a new Department of Early Childhood, which provides an opportunity for the state to create transformational changes that will benefit the early childhood workforce, young children and their families. This transformational work should be paired with sustainable investments and improved data collection, and we will all be watching to see if these coordinated efforts benefit our youngest learners. 


1Kiguel, S., Cashdollar, S., & Bates, S. (Forthcoming). Kindergarten readiness in Illinois: Trends and disparities in readiness using the Kindergarten Individual Development Survey (KIDS). Chicago, IL: Illinois Workforce and Education Research Collaborative (IWERC), Discovery Partners Institute, University of Illinois.

Start Early is pleased to introduce our Chicago Policy Agenda for 2024-2027. Chicago is positioned to make great strides toward a higher-quality, more equitable early care and learning system over the next three years and this policy agenda outlines key levers for achieving that kind of systems change.

Awareness of Chicago’s early learning issues among City leadership will be one of those key levers. After advocates in Chicago successfully garnered attention for early learning issues during the 2023 elections, Mayor Johnson outlined goals for early learning in his administration’s transition plan and has since embraced and revived the Every Child Ready Chicago initiative, which was launched under the Lightfoot administration just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The recently elected City Council has also seemingly made a renewed commitment to issues impacting Chicago’s young children with the revival of the Education and Child Development Committee, which now holds regular meetings under the leadership of Alderwoman Jeannette Taylor.  

Leadership changes within Chicago Public Schools (CPS) have also resulted in continued commitments to early learning, including furthering the expansion of universal full-day pre-k for every four-year-old in Chicago. In addition to hiring a new CEO in 2021, CPS is facing an unprecedented expansion of their Board of Education over the next four years that will open opportunities to expand the Board’s expertise and further democratize the range of issues it considers.   

As CPS receives increased funds from the state’s Early Childhood Block Grant under Governor Pritzker’s Smart Start plan, their leadership will need to contend with how to build on the progress that has been made to expand access to pre-k and do so in such a way that preserves and promotes equity within the mixed delivery system of school- and community-based early childhood education that gives families in Chicago the ability to choose the program that works best for their child. Doing so will require partnership with Chicago’s six federal Head Start grant recipients and the broader early childhood provider community in Chicago. Our hope is that this Chicago Policy Agenda will provide guidance on where to focus efforts and resources as the city embarks on this collaborative work.