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 to learn more.

Watch the recording of our April 23, 2024 webinar linked below and explore resources to create more equitable and inclusive early childhood systems for young children with disabilities and delays and their families.

The data is clear. While all children benefit from high quality inclusive early learning opportunities, less than half of children with disabilities and developmental delays actually access inclusive early learning opportunities . For children of color, this data is worse. TheU.S. Department of Education (ED) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have a “renewed commitment and urgency” in supporting equity and inclusion for young children with disabilities and developmental delays in early childhood programs.

In response, we hosted a discussion to dive deeper into this issue with a focus on the role of policy advocates. Our federal agency partners from the Administration for Children and Families in HHS and the Office of Special Education Programs in ED shared the federal government’s vision for inclusion and the important role advocates play to advance a more inclusive early childhood system. We also heard from parents impacted by this issue, Danielle and Ebonii, who highlighted the importance of inclusion for their young children and elevated the disparities families face. Lastly, we reviewed key elements of the federal Policy Statement: Inclusion of Children with Disabilities in Early Childhood Programs and discussed various ways advocates can push for inclusion. The discussion featured a story from our partners at Early Choices and the Governor’s Early Childhood Transition who, in collaboration with Start Early, are standing up a new early childhood agency. They shared a unique approach to advance an inside-outside systems change for inclusion. Check out the resources linked below for more information.

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Learn more about accessing tailored consulting from Start Early to advance a high-quality, equitable and inclusive early childhood system in your state or community.

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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 *. 

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

A Fresh Look at Supporting Your Team This Winter

This is a critical year as programs continue working to offset the effects of the pandemic on early learning. With research-based professional development from Start Early, we can help you get there faster.

During our recent webinar, we explore how Start Early Professional Development can help you navigate a return to live instruction amidst ongoing federal funding opportunities and overwhelmed leaders and teachers who have been working around the clock since the start of the pandemic to serve children and families.

Watch the recording below to learn how Start Early’s portfolio of professional learning opportunities and resources can help you and your team:

  • Learn and deploy strategies for workforce retention,
  • Support overwhelmed leaders and professionals,
  • Discover solutions to under-enrollment and family engagement, and
  • Effectively on-board new staff at any experience level

From data-driven working sessions to a supportive fellowship for leaders, we translate decades of experience into actionable learning for today. Strengthen your program’s outcomes with Start Early Professional Development.

Interested in learning more? Reach out to us today to discuss how to best leverage your federal stimulus dollars to support your workforce through this time of transition and into the future. Email to schedule a conversation with one of our professional learning advisors, and join our mailing list to find out about upcoming learning experiences from Start Early.

Finding a way to talk about hard things can be challenging and stressful for even the most seasoned home visitor and family support professional. This has been especially true over the past year and a half as we’ve experienced the crises and challenges of the pandemic and more.

In talking to home visitors, supervisors and administrators about how they’re handling the current pressures of their environments, they’ve shared that what they really need right now is incremental support. In response to this need, we are pleased to announce the publication of the 4th edition of the NEAR@Home Toolkit. The NEAR@Home Toolkit is a free, self-study guide for how to safely, respectfully and effectively discuss ACES (adverse childhood experiences), trauma, and other hard things with parents by focusing on hope, respect and resilience. This newest edition features stories and quotes from home visitors to help contextualize the work described in the toolkit, and a framework for thinking about childhood trauma and adversity.

The NEAR@Home Toolkit

A resource for home visitors to respectfully and effectively address adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) with families.

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We spoke about how the four elements that serve as the foundation of the NEAR@Home Toolkit — Neuroscience, Epigenetics, ACEs, and Resilience — come to life in our recent webinar at the Region 9 Early Head Start Conference, “Messing Up in Home Visits: an Opportunity for Repair and Deepening the Relationship.

As a former home visitor, I can attest that we all mess up. Ruptures in home visitors’ relationships with families are inevitable. By openly talking about our mistakes, we have an opportunity to learn and grow. In the webinar, we share strategies to repair the interactions between home visitors and families, leading to a more authentic and trusting home visitor-parent relationship. View the webinar recording directly below.

For home visitors who want to go deeper, the NEAR@Home Facilitated Learning process offers home visiting programs additional support for the toolkit, including experiential and reflective learning resources and modules, as well as support to implement the toolkit. The facilitated learning process occurs over 6-12 months in a safe, supported small group led by a specially trained NEAR Facilitator with expertise in home visiting and infant mental health. Reach out to us at to discuss how to bring NEAR@Home to your program.

More Like This

With the recent passage of the American Rescue Plan, we are at a critical and unprecedented juncture for early childhood education. With nearly $40 billion in federal stimulus funding to invest in child care alone, the field is facing both an enormous opportunity and an enormous responsibility. This investment is the long overdue catalyst our country needs to expand and deepen our focus on early childhood professionals and their well-being.

During our most recent Building Resilience webinar – How to Cultivate Teacher Well-Being and Improve Child Outcomes in Turbulent Timesthree early childhood leaders from across the country shared how they have been supporting the professional well-being of their staff amidst burnout, fatigue and discrimination, ongoing problems of practice that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Throughout the panel discussion, each leader elevated professional development as one method they are employing to improve staff retention and morale. Their use of evidence-based, sustainable professional development strategies in partnership with Start Early has resulted in leadership being able to identify exactly where their staff need support. The use of Start Early Professional Development has also empowered these leaders to carve out the time and space they and their teams need to have necessary conversations about improving quality. With everything else that these leaders were dealing with throughout the past year, they were still able to focus on providing quality services and supports to staff, families, and children in their programs.

Start Early Professional Development is grounded in decades of cutting-edge research demonstrating the direct link between strong leadership, organizational climate and culture and positive child outcomes. Read our qualitative research report detailing what strong organizational environments in programs look and feel like for families and professionals. Leaders, teachers, and families were empowered to realize higher-quality practices and better outcomes for young children.

Interested in learning more about Start Early Professional Development? Reach out to us today to discuss how to best leverage your federal stimulus dollars to support your workforce through this time of transition and into the future. Email to schedule a conversation with one of our professional learning advisors.

Thank you to our wonderful panelists:

  • Amye Hoskins, Professional Development Specialist, Mississippi Department of Education, Office of Early Childhood
  • Karin Scott, Director of Data and Program Performance, Child Care Associates
  • Andi Bales Molnar, Director Head Start Collaboration, Oregon
  • Facilitators: Debra Pacchiano, VP Translational Research, Start Early and Anisha Ford, Program Manager, Start Early

Building Resilience

About the Series

“Building Resilience” is a free quarterly webinar series that connects you directly with Start Early childhood learning and development experts. Appropriate for all types of programs and early learning professionals, this series will explore:

  • Advancing Equity through Ambitious Instruction
  • Trauma-Informed Family Engagement
  • Leveraging Research to Increase Positive Child Outcomes

Join our mailing list to find out about upcoming learning experiences from Start Early and continue the conversation with us on Early Childhood Connector.

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.

During the first webinar in our “Building Resilience” series, experts across policy, program, and system levels shared their successes, challenges, and opportunities with Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships (Partnerships). The discussion touched on many relevant and timely themes within the early childhood education sector, including the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis on the child care industry.

One panelist, an early childhood education teacher from Southwest Child Development Center in Oklahoma City, shared this call to action: “The [federal] administration should acknowledge child care workers. We are on the same guidelines as school teachers, we just make less money than them. Child care workers should get the same benefits that school teachers receive.”

While the pandemic has revealed the fragility of our under-resourced child care workforce, it has illuminated the strength and visibility of the Partnerships model. A recent qualitative policy analysis from Start Early, found that Partnerships support continuity of care for infants and toddlers and raise the level of quality for child care.

Participants came away from the discussion with a deeper understanding of Partnerships and their benefits, particularly during the pandemic, as well as ideas on how to support and sustain Partnerships and professional development resources for themselves and their staff.

Thank you to our wonderful panelists:

  • Melinda George-LeCote, Director, Child Care Assistance Program in Louisiana
  • Amanda Guarino, Policy Director, First Five Years Fund
  • Charlina Tirso, Teacher, Southwest Child Development Center
  • Sujey M. Venegas, Sr. Director Family, Community Engagement, Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership, United Way of Miami-Dade County
  • Moderator: Kristin Bernhard, SVP Advocacy and Policy, Start Early

Building Resilience

About the Series

“Building Resilience” is a free quarterly webinar series that connects you directly with Start Early childhood learning and development experts. Appropriate for all types of programs and early learning professionals, this series will explore:

  • Advancing Equity through Ambitious Instruction
  • Trauma-Informed Family Engagement
  • Leveraging Research to Increase Positive Child Outcomes

Join our mailing list to find out about upcoming learning experiences from Start Early and continue the conversation with us on Early Childhood Connector.