The 2022 National Home Visiting Summit brought together over 1,200 systems leaders, researchers, practitioners, policy advocates, key partners and decision makers in a collaborative pursuit to advance the home visiting field and systems of care to increase service quality and improve child and family outcomes.

Attendees at this year’s virtual event participated in workshops, affinity groups, communities of practice and plenary sessions that discussed issues facing the home visiting field today, including innovations in home visiting practices and systems, addressing systematic and structural racism, and improving maternal and child health outcomes.

While the home visiting field understands that parent leadership strengthens families and promotes optimal child well-being, engaging parent leaders in advocacy spaces is another crucial part of the equation for creating positive systems and policy change. As the home visiting field prepares for major federal advocacy opportunities like the upcoming reauthorization of the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program (MIECHV), there is a pressing need for home visiting advocates and policy makers to elevate the voices and advocacy of families and parents of young children. But where can parent advocates build their advocacy muscle, and learn about opportunities to engage in support for early learning programs in their communities?

Building on the National Home Visiting Summit Advocacy & Policy Community of Practice’s Advocacy 101 video series, Start Early is proud to share a new set of videos that highlights the skills parents bring to the table as powerful advocates and elevates opportunities to grow as leaders in advocating for home visiting and other early childhood issues impacting families.

We hope you enjoy these videos, and we invite you to share them with your networks. For additional discussion on how home visiting providers and policy advocates can bring parent leaders into meaningful partnership, check out the January webinar from the National Home Visiting Summit Advocacy & Policy Community of Practice. This webinar features a panel discussion with parent leaders about the key relationship building strategies that are foundational to creating space for parent voices.

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Last week, we hosted our 20th Annual Luncheon—our first-ever hybrid event—where we welcomed hundreds of individuals in-person here in Chicago and hundreds of others virtually across the country. Presented by LaSalle Network, the powerful program demonstrated how quality early learning and care programs can promote resilience and hope for families with young children—now more than ever.

If you were unable to join us or want to tune in again, you can watch a recording of the full program below.

Through this powerful program of diverse voices and experiences, we hope you can see the role we each have as parents, family members, friends or colleagues to support our children, families and those who care for them. From spreading the word about early learning’s impact in our communities, to contacting your legislator in support of proposed policies or sharing the gift of financial support, your investment of time or resources will make a difference.

As Luncheon Co-Chair Curt Bailey shared, “adversity brings opportunity, and we have an incredible opportunity to create a new normal that ensures equitable access to quality early learning and programs that promote resilience for every child and family.”

I am overwhelmed with appreciation for the parents, educators and early learning champions, including out Luncheon Co-Chairs Curt Bailey and Mary Hasten, who highlighted the critical need for quality early learning and care programs and services in our communities.

We are grateful for the incredible support and generosity of our donors and event sponsors who helped us exceed our fundraising goal of $1.3 million. Every dollar will help change the course for our youngest learners. You can still show your support by making a gift today. When we come together and invest in early childhood education, we can transform the lives of our future generation.

Luncheon Co-Chair Mary Hasten said it perfectly. “There is certainly more work to be done, but we know that our collective work IS making a difference today, and TOGETHER, we know that we can impact every tomorrow for young children and their families.”

Thank you for being part of our 2022 Annual Luncheon, and we hope to see you again soon.

The Illinois Policy Team at Start Early is pleased to release our annual Illinois Legislative Agenda, a snapshot of the budget requests and legislative priorities for which Start Early will be advocating during the spring 2022 legislative session in the state.

With the new legislative session underway, our team is focused on moving forward funding requests and legislation that will support families and providers across our early childhood system.

Our goals for the year include:

  • Securing additional funding for the Early Childhood Block Grant at the Illinois State Board of Education and voluntary home visiting programs, the Early Intervention (EI) program, and the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) at the Illinois Department of Human Services
  • Codifying existing timeline for the initiation of EI services
  • Expanding eligibility to CCAP and EI for kids involved in the child welfare system
  • Passing legislation to create paid family leave program, among other priorities

The following two modules provide a brief overview of [email protected] core concepts and what a NEAR home visit looks like in practice.

[email protected] is a resource for home visitors to respectfully and effectively address adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) with families. In addition to our free and easily accessible [email protected] Toolkit, we have developed a Facilitated Learning process through which trained facilitators guide home visitors and supervisors through the process of implementing a NEAR home visit.

Learn more about the [email protected] Facilitated Learning program and how it can support you and your home visiting program by watching the two videos below (Module #1 and Module #2).

Interested in bringing the [email protected] Facilitated Learning program to your community and developing your own team of [email protected] facilitators? Please reach out to us at [email protected].

For me, advocating for Black fathers is a matter of personal, professional, and societal importance. My father’s indelible impact on my life — including my own role as an active father to my children — led me to pursue a career ensuring Black fathers are recognized as assets to their children, families, and communities. Research has highlighted the important role and contributions that Black fathers have on their families, including influences on children’s school adjustment, social competence, psychological well-being and positive racial socialization.

A father’s involvement in his child’s life from very early on has a tremendous impact on their development. Children with involved, caring fathers have stronger educational and developmental outcomes with better linguistic and cognitive capabilities. They also start school with higher academic readiness. Fathers that spend time playing with their infants and preschoolers in stimulating, engaging activities help their children learn how to regulate their feelings and behavior. I can personally attest to spending a lot of time playing with my youngest son, a toddler, as he learns to explore the world around him.

Addressing systemic racism can help fathers fill this important role and empowering them with resources. Below are ways we all can create opportunities for marginalized fathers and better position them as the assets they are in our society.

  • Change the narrative. We must change society’s misguided view of Black fathers as negligent parents and recast them as integral parts of our family and community, just as my father was for me and how I strive to be for my children. This requires presenting positive and culturally affirming narratives of Black fathers in the media — including social media— and through research studies, organizational cultures and legislation.
  • Expand home visiting and parent education programs to ensure they are father friendly, father-centered and culturally inclusive. All fathers want what is best for their children, and home visiting programs can empower fathers in their role by engaging them in program activities and supporting their involvement in their children’s lives.
  • Drive policy change that transforms the child support system into a family-building institution. Eliminating government-owed child support debt for fathers unable to pay will go a long way in enabling Black fathers to advance economically and to better provide for their children.

Supporting Black fathers in their role as a child’s first and most important teacher is an investment in our children and our communities. This Father’s Day, let’s intentionally change the narrative, advocate for local, state and federal policies that benefit Black fathers and promote positive and culturally relevant parent and home visiting programs that benefit early childhood development.

Learn more about my work and continue to follow this blog for the latest updates from Start Early.

The importance of partnering with parents to support them in their role as the children’s first and most important teacher is at the core of the documentary film, “Tomorrow’s Hope,” which will have its virtual nationwide premiere this Thursday, May 20. The film spotlights three students from Educare Chicago, an early childhood education center run by Start Early, who started at the school as infants through their high school graduation.

“Parents are critical in helping their children learn. Your best chance of any educational intervention sustaining itself is to invest in the parent,” former vice president of program and innovation Portia Kennel notes in the film.

Elishaba Poindexter, a mother whose son Jamal is featured in the film shares, “When my son started at Educare Chicago, he was 18 months old. I thought ‘Wow, this program is actually engaging not only the students but the parents as well — teaching us how to be with our child at home.’” She emphasized how Educare Chicago provided a key sense of community. “For Jamal, to constantly have that guidance and push that’s the village [needed] to raise a child.”

Families are a child’s first and most important teachers, which is why Start Early works directly with families, often starting before birth, to empower parenting skills and nurture the strong bonds between children and their caregivers that are essential to every child’s present and future well-being.

“We work hard to create relationships with parents and look at each family as an individual with their own hopes and dreams,” noted Brenda Eiland-Williford, director of early childhood quality and impact at Start Early in the film.

Parents and caregivers have the clearest perspective of what their family needs. As we begin the work of rebuilding our early childhood system back better in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, family voices — like those featured in “Tomorrow’s Hope” — must be included in the planning, implementation, oversight and evaluation of all programs serving children from birth to age 5 and their families.

As Rebecca Berlin, chief learning officer at Start Early and principal investigator of the National Center for Parent, Family and Community Engagement (NCPFCE) shared with Early Learning Nation, “We know [lifting family voices] will lead to early learning programs that truly support family well-being, effective family and community engagement and children’s school readiness so that every child has the opportunity to thrive.”

We encourage you to register for the Thursday, May 20 nationwide virtual premiere of “Tomorrow’s Hope.” Continue following our blog to stay up to date on our latest initiatives, including our work leading the NCPFCE.

“Tomorrow’s Hope” was produced by the Saul Zaentz Charitable Foundation and is presented in partnership with a group of organizations from across the U.S. that are united in their dedication to early childhood education.

Earlier today, we hosted our Annual Luncheon — a virtual, nationwide celebration of the transformational power of starting early. Through the inspiring stories of families, educators and early learning champions, we witnessed how quality early learning and care programs lay a positive foundation for our youngest learners and provide necessary supports for all families.

Presented by LaSalle Network and the Zell Family Foundation, our Luncheon welcomed more than 3,000 individuals from coast to coast, many first-time attendees who are new to the Start Early family, along with some of our longest supporters. If you were unable to join us, you can watch a recording of the full program below.

Through this powerful program of diverse voices and experiences, we hope you can see the role we each have as parents, family members, friends or colleagues to support our children, families and early childhood workforce. From spreading the word about early learning’s impact in our communities, to contacting your legislator in support of an advocacy campaign or sharing the gift of financial support, your investment of time or resources will make a difference. Learn more about ways to get involved.

I am overwhelmed with appreciation for the families, educators and early learning champions, including our Luncheon Co-Chairs Kelly King Dibble and Diana Sands, who shared their personal and inspirational stories to help demonstrate the importance of early learning and care programs. Thank you to:

Michelle Obama
Former First Lady of the United States

Dr. Clinton Boyd, Jr.  
Postdoctoral Associate, Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity

Diana Barrios
New Mother

Patricia Ceja-Muhsen
Doula, Healthy Parents & Babies

Danielle Jordan  
Senior Master Teacher, Educare Chicago

Michelle Morris  
Family Support & Community Engagement Manager, Educare Chicago

Kelly King Dibble
Senior Vice President, The Northern Trust Company; Board Member, Start Early

Diana Sands
Board Member, Start Early

Curt Bailey
President, Related Midwest; Board Chair, Start Early

We are so grateful for the overwhelming generosity of our donors and event sponsors, who helped us surpass our fundraising goal of $1.2 million. Each dollar invested in this mission will change the course for our youngest learners and their families. You can still show your support by making a gift. When we come together and invest in early childhood education, we can transform the lives of our future generation.

Thank you for joining us at our virtual 2021 Annual Luncheon, and we hope to see you again soon.

The 2021 National Home Visiting Summit brought together over 1,500 leaders, practitioners, advocates and decision-makers in a collaborative pursuit to advance the home visiting field and systems of care to increase service quality and improve outcomes.

Summit attendees participated in virtual workshops, Communities of Practice and plenary sessions that discussed issues facing the home visiting field today, including innovations in home visiting practices and systems, addressing systematic and structural racism, and improving maternal and child health outcomes.

State Leadership for Strong, Accountable and Equitable Home Visiting Systems

States are leading the way in advancing home visiting services, home visiting finance, and statewide systems with multiple models. Following adoption of federal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program, with support from the Pew Home Visiting Campaign, more than a dozen states adopted systems approaches, often supported by common, cross-model accountability measures and produce annual reports for their legislatures or governors. Panelists in this presentation walk through how to  broaden the audience’s understanding of how to advance a home visiting system, use cross-model funding and measurement and improve equity in home visiting.

Maternal Health Outcomes: Balancing the Scales of Equity

Maternal health and well-being are necessary to the development of healthy outcomes for children and create the foundation for favorable opportunities to build strong parent-child relationships from birth. Yet data and research indicate that women of color have inequitable access to care during and after the perinatal period. In this presentation, moderator Andrea Palmer from the Pritzker Foundation, and panelists Zea Malawa, M.D., San Francisco Department of Health, Angela Doyinsola Aina, MPH, from Black Mamas Matter Alliance and Dr. Michael Warren, MD, MPH, FAAP, Associate Administrator of the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, discusses current and desired maternal health outcomes, unintended consequences of policies and practices implemented in existing systems, and strategies to increase positive maternal health outcomes for women of color at the program, community, state and federal levels.

Healthy Outcomes from Positive Experiences, HOPE

Now more than ever, we have a tremendous opportunity – and responsibility – to fundamentally transform our work by adopting practices that recognize, value and actively bolster positive experiences, those positive childhood experiences that drive health and well-being. Children grow and develop in response to their experiences, beginning at the moment of birth. Experiences of strong foundational relationships, safe, stable and supportive environments, authentic engagement, and opportunities for social and emotional growth can support optimal development and resilience. In this presentation, hear from Dr. Robert Sege, director of the Hope National Resource Center, on this paradigm shift towards Healthy Outcomes from Positive Experiences – HOPE on the power of positive transformation for ourselves and the families and communities we serve.

As the director of Start Early’s Enterprise Project Management Office, Colleen Vehr knew the early months and years of a child’s life are critical to their learning, growth, and development. Knowing this, she was particularly grateful to be able to have extended time away from work to focus on her rapidly growing family and providing for her newborns’ needs as they grew and changed each day.

As a mother of twins who spent time in the NICU, Vehr shares, “I really cherish the time I was able to spend at home nurturing my babies so they could thrive in the way that all children deserve.”

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Providing parents with paid time off from work to care for their young children helps families begin their journey on a strong foundation of caring, consistent relationships. Infants experience rapid rates of brain development fueled by nurturing and consistent relationship with caregiving adults, and these earliest interactions have a significant, long-lasting impact on executive functioning, early communication, and problem-solving skills.

Bridget Byville, vice president of Development, and another recent mother at Start Early recalls how her parental leave helped get her son to a place where he was healthy and thriving. “My parental leave helped us get into the cadence of being a family and creating those social emotional connections that we needed. It was especially beneficial for creating a bond with this tiny human — who is very fragile — and it gave me time to focus on my health and well-being post labor,” she shares.

Caregiver holding babyIndeed, research has found that paid family leave leads to a wealth of benefits related to child development and child and caregiver health. One recent study found that paid leave was linked to better language, cognitive and social emotional outcomes in toddlers regardless of socioeconomic status and fewer infant behavior problems. Research also suggests that parental leave — especially paid leave — can support children’s health during this critical window, including positively affecting breastfeeding rates and duration, reducing the risk of infant mortality, and increasing the likelihood of infants receiving well-baby care and vaccinations.

The benefits that paid leave produces for young children and their families have not only compelled Start Early to advocate for policies that increase access to paid leave but has compelled our organization to adopt our own paid leave policies, including providing up to 6 months of paid maternity, paternity or adoption leave for employees.

The U.S. is one of only eight countries that does not offer paid leave, forcing parents to cobble together paid personal time, sick leave and short-term disability, if available or feasible. As a result, the average maternity leave in the U.S. is about 10 weeks.

“When you invest in your people, they invest back in the organization which ultimately leads to increased retention. I feel a much stronger sense of loyalty to Start Early because of the space they made for my family.

Bridget Byville, vice president of Development
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Vehr reflects on how even a 3-month policy wouldn’t have felt sufficient. “With a 3-month policy, I would have spent about a third of my leave with at least one child in the hospital. The extended 6-month leave meant that I could spend meaningful time, especially in those precious early days, focused on establishing new routines and caring for my children.”

Decreasing an employee’s salary and retirement savings opportunities at a time when their expenses are increasing causes high levels of stress, conditions that have been shown to negatively affect children’s growth and development. Start Early’s parental leave program also aligns with research evidence about the impact caregiver stress and access to high-quality healthcare has on young children by providing employees with 100% of their salary and benefits during parental leave.

“I was really one of the fortunate parents in the NICU,” says Vehr. “I think about mothers who have to return to work before they’ve fully healed or parents who are forced to return to work when their little ones are so very young because not receiving a paycheck is simply not an option.”

A comprehensive paid parental leave program can aid in retaining women in the workforce. One study from Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that implementing paid parental leave policies in California and New Jersey resulted in a 20 percent reduction in the number of women exiting their jobs in the first year after welcoming a child and up to a 50 percent reduction after 5 years.

“When you invest in your people, they invest back in the organization which ultimately leads to increased retention,” notes Byville. “I feel a much stronger sense of loyalty to Start Early because of the space they made for my family.”

Vehr agrees, “I feel a deeper sense of commitment to our organization and more cared for as an employee.” She adds, “it really calls on employers to consider a far more empathetic, humane approach to parental and family leave, and it also calls on our lawmakers to support employers with that aim.”

The benefits of paid parental leave set families, employers, and our communities up for success, which is why Start Early will continue to advocate for family-friendly policies that support time for parents and caregivers to bond with and care for their children without jeopardizing their ability to afford basic needs.

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