Head Start programs across the country are facing an enrollment crisis exacerbated by the pandemic and a persistent staffing shortage. According to a NIEER report, Head Start programs enrolled around 257,000 fewer children (a 33% decline) during the 2020-21 program year than they did in 2018-19. Numerous families made other arrangements for their children. Many centers had to reduce the number of classrooms they operated and struggled to find and retain qualified staff – leaving remaining staff with less capacity to support recruitment.

Although enrollment numbers have started to rebound in recent years, the disruptions and challenges exacerbated by the pandemic continue to plague Head Start programs. As of February of this year, NHSA reports that under-enrollment is a big problem for many programs, with current enrollment relative to funded enrollment at roughly 79% for Head Start and 81% for Early Head Start nationally. Many Head Start programs are scrambling to rebuild their capacity and recruit more families to enroll with a looming threat of funding cuts if they are unable to fill slots. The innovations and lessons learned from Head Start programs during this time may also provide ideas for leaders of other publicly funded early learning programs and systems – like home visiting – that may also be looking to ensure families are aware of and able to access and enroll in these critical services.

Also, it is worth noting that recruitment, eligibility, and enrollment barriers occur at numerous levels. The research discussed in this blog focuses on challenges at the local and program level. To learn more about national trends and Head Start in general, check out this post.

Recent Research Provides Insight Into Key factors Affecting Enrollment

In January 2022, Start Early embarked on a new interdisciplinary project, funded by the Vivo Foundation, to understand barriers to Head Start enrollment in Chicago Head Start programs. The multi-year project sought to address a key challenge: improve recruitment and enrollment to ensure more eligible children and their families receive high-quality Head Start supports.

In the first phase of the project, researchers used a human-centered design approach to understand the current state of recruitment efforts and experiences from a staff and family perspective. They surveyed Head Start staff most knowledgeable about recruitment and enrollment and conducted interviews with families.

Findings suggest strategies to increase enrollment:

Action Area 1: Reduce barriers to entry for families and create welcoming environments.
Systems leaders need to be aware of hidden barriers that families may face, including confusing or burdensome eligibility requirements, lengthy wait times, and a first impression that programs have a regimented, transactional, and unwelcoming approach to families. Such barriers might be mitigated by:

  • Addressing the stigma and hurdles that families feel by creating warm and welcoming environments. Program leaders and staff need support to understand and address the stigma that some families may feel around demonstrating and documenting their eligibility for EHS/HS services. Staff also need to be prepared to be upfront with parents about expectations and timelines; yet still warm and inviting.
  • Clarifying eligibility requirements so parents and staff know what is needed. Eligibility requirements and timelines from application to enrollment are not always clear to families and the paperwork required can be burdensome and invasive for some parents given the amount of personal information requested.

Action Area 2: Support Head Start Centers to communicate about program effectiveness and benefits. Parents are interested in high quality, child-centric programs. Programs and systems need to find more effective ways to communicate program benefits and quality. This might be achieved by:

  • Digital marketing. Programs need support to build an online presence that is accurate, appealing, and accessible (e.g., free of unfamiliar jargon, translated into families’ home languages) because most families start their search for information online. The lack of such digital information may inadvertently create barriers for families.
  • Clarifying availability of programs that meet families’ needs. Many working families want full-day programs and need easier access to information about program availability and qualification requirements. Messaging should also highlight other important areas for families, including proximity, safety, and cleanliness.
  • Highlighting the research supporting early childhood education and program quality. Parents need more assurance that Head Start programs meet their personal priorities and standards, especially in the providing high-quality early learning experiences by credentialed teachers. Highlighting the evidence of Head Start’s documented impact and value could help encourage parents to enroll in Head Start programs.

Programs Cannot Address These Challenges Alone

As a next step in this project, Start Early staff have partnered with several Head Start programs to test new strategies for reaching, recruiting, and supporting families – including though more effective communication strategies and employing a relationship-based approach. However, program-level efforts alone are likely insufficient to address this systemic, national challenge; systems leaders have a key role to play, including not only supporting scaling of the efforts described above, but in solving other contributing issues to this challenge, like workforce recruitment and retention. In addition, the lessons learned from Head Start programs in meeting enrollment goals may also be useful to leaders across other parts of the early childhood system as they seek to increase accessibility to other critical early childhood services and supports, from home visiting to child care subsidy.

Numerous teams across Start Early are focused on the challenges of Head Start enrollment this year. Be on the lookout for more details, including a report on strategies to increase enrollment and a digital marketing guide, in the coming months.


This blog post was co-authored by Amanda Stein, Managing Director, Research & Evaluation at Start Early. 

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Please join me in celebrating the release of Flourishing Children, Healthy Communities, and a Stronger Nation: The U.S. Early Years Climate Action Plan. Since its launch in June 2023, it has been my honor to serve as Co-Chair of the U.S. Early Years Climate Action Task Force, and I am grateful to my fellow Task Force members for their contributions and to Capita and the Aspen Institute for creating a forum for this important work. We owe the success of these recommendations not only to their hard work but also to the insights that were so generously shared with us by caregivers and other early childhood, health, climate and systems leaders through listening sessions.

Start Early believes that our early childhood system should be high-quality, equitable and responsive—and climate-resilient. Adapting and expanding our child- and family-facing services in the years ahead is especially critical to our ability to support those most impacted by climate disruption: pregnant people, infants, and young children, particularly those with disabilities and those impacted by environmental injustice and racism in America.

Together, the early childhood and climate change mitigation fields must look to the strengths and protective factors offered by our early childhood system to support these high-priority populations in the context of a changing climate. The challenge of climate change is daunting, but well-resourced, accessible early childhood systems are key in helping young children and their caregivers prepare and adapt. Child- and family-serving programs are key resources in both helping children and their families remain safe amid climate emergencies and helping them prepare for the future of our changed climate by building resilience, navigating information and resources and strengthening community networks.

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As you review the Task Force’s recommendations, I hope you’ll take them as both a call to action and an invitation for partnership. The actions proposed for policymakers; federal, state, and local systems change leaders; funders; and researchers can only be meaningfully implemented in true partnership with the families and early care and learning providers. As we collectively face the daunting challenges associated with climate change, our policies and resiliency planning efforts must be rooted in bidirectional relationships with caregivers of young children; we must center their voices and experiences and collaboratively develop solutions that work.

The parents and caregivers who shared their experiences with us made it clear: even as coordinated, systems-level solutions begin to emerge, parents and providers have already been innovating and identifying their own solutions to keeping pregnant people, infants, and young children safe and happy in a changing climate. Let’s partner with them to advance these innovations and move forward together to co-design a more climate resilient future for our nation’s families, expectant parents and youngest children.

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.

Acknowledgements

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.

In my work, I interchangeably use the terms “Hispanic” and “Latinx/e” to refer to individuals whose cultural background originated in Latin American and/or Spanish-speaking countries or are descendants of persons from those countries. I want to acknowledge that Hispanic or Latinx/e individuals in the United States represent diverse countries of origin with unique histories and cultures. Hereafter, I will use “Hispanic” to describe this population.


Over recent decades, the racial-ethnic demographic composition of children in the United States has rapidly shifted, with Hispanic children largely contributing to these changes. Only 9% of U.S. children were Hispanic in 1980; today, over a quarter of children are Hispanic, and by 2050, it is predicted that nearly one in every three children will be Hispanic. This represents a dramatic increase in the number of those who are eligible for early care and education (ECE). In response to this rapidly growing population, new lines of research have emerged to inform and advance practices and policies that support Hispanic children and families’ well-being.

Recent studies consistently demonstrate that participation in high-quality ECE programs is beneficial for Hispanic children’s academic, developmental, and family outcomes; and in some instances, such programs serve as a protective factor in mitigating adversity or negative experiences among Hispanic children and families. As this evidence continues to mount, some researchers have shifted their priorities to focus on linkages between Hispanic children and families’ enrollment in ECE and their well-being in the challenging landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic. The tumultuous nature of the pandemic has corresponded with new studies unpacking hardships experienced by Hispanic children and families; these studies are often grounded in a deficit viewpoint. While researchers are building a much-needed knowledge base, the use of a strengths-based view is essential for uncovering protective factors, like engaging in ECE programs, that may serve as a buffer for Hispanic children and families from the challenges of the pandemic.

Start Early Professional Development

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Thus, through a strengths-based approach, researchers at Start Early sought to examine changes in the well-being of Hispanic children and families enrolled in a sample of 23 Early/Head Start programs within the Educare Learning Network before and during the pandemic leveraging longitudinal data from the Educare National Evaluation. A range of indicators to assess well-being were gathered and analyzed in a sample of 1736 Hispanic children and families enrolled during the 2018-2019 academic year and another 1297 Hispanic children and families enrolled during the 2020-21 academic year. Measures of well-being included teacher reports of children’s social-emotional protective factors, such as attachment, initiative, self-regulation, and any behavioral concerns and family self-reports of perceived stress, resilience, level of family support, and their relationship with their child.

Key Findings

  • Overall, findings showed that Hispanic children enrolled in Educare schools during the pandemic, received higher teacher ratings of their social-emotional skills than Hispanic children enrolled prior to the pandemic. During the pandemic, the proportion of Hispanic children rated by their teachers as having ‘typical’ or ‘strong’ social emotional protective factors by the spring of the 2020-21 academic year (91%) was higher than the proportion of Hispanic children receiving the same rating before the pandemic (86%). Similarly, fewer Hispanic children were rated as having behavioral concerns during the pandemic (i.e., by the spring of 2021, less than 8% of Hispanic children were identified as having any behavioral concerns compared to nearly 17% in spring of 2019 prior to the pandemic).
  • Findings also revealed that the well-being of Hispanic families looked consistent before and during the pandemic. Nearly all family well-being indicators that were examined among Hispanic families enrolled in Educare schools before the pandemic were comparable for those enrolled in Educare schools during the pandemic – with a slightly lower average level of parent-reported conflict for Hispanic families enrolled in Educare during the pandemic. Also, family-reported perceived stress, resiliency to stress, social supports, and relationship with their child looked similar among families enrolled in Educare before the pandemic and those enrolled during the pandemic, such that Hispanic families consistently reported low levels of perceived stress and conflict with their child and high levels of resiliency, helpful social supports, and closeness to their child.

In contrast with other ECE research and the mostly bleak narratives circulating in the media about the negative effects of the pandemic on child and family well-being, results from these descriptive analyses of Educare Learning Network data found that Hispanic children and families demonstrated a variety of social-emotional related strengths. Findings and data from this sample may not generalize to other Hispanic children and families given that these children and families are enrolled in Educare—a model Early/Head Start program demonstrating higher than average program quality. However, changing the narrative and highlighting positive findings related to child and family well-being during the pandemic can potentially inform Early/Head Start and other ECE programs’ efforts to effectively support Hispanic children and families. These descriptive findings cannot yet speak to why this sample of young Hispanic children and their families did not demonstrate declines in these indicators of well-being or how child and family well-being will look in the long run; but they can help emphasize the importance of high-quality ECE and contribute further evidence that positive experiences in the early years may provide a buffer to the challenges faced by children and families, including those resulting from the pandemic.

Find information about research and evaluation within the Educare Learning Network at EducareSchools.org.

We gratefully acknowledge funding support from the Buffett Early Childhood Fund (BECF) and other Network funders supporting research, evaluation, and dissemination. The authors would like to thank our Educare schools including the incredible children, families, leaders, and staff that engage in the Network’s research and evaluation as well as the exceptional Network of researchers and evaluators.

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As parents and caregivers grapple with climate anxiety (their own and their children’s) and how to discuss climate change with their families, one thing remains certain: we all want a safe, healthy and joyful future for the children in our lives.

Although only about half of parents have had the climate change conversation with their little ones, 3 out of 4 Americans (74%) feel they have a “moral obligation” to make the world a better place by addressing climate change not only for their own children and grandchildren, but for all children to come.1 This starts with understanding the latest information about how our world is changing and what those impacts will look like for different communities, populations and systems.

Enter > the AR6 Synthesis Report: Climate Change 2023 (AR6), the latest report from the United Nations’ body on climate change (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC), released this past March. The report summarizes what we know about the status of climate change worldwide, the trends that are emerging, what impacts are taking hold and for whom, and what policies and actions are likely to slow down foreseeable effects.

From my standpoint as a parent and early childhood and climate justice advocate, here are my five big takeaways from this landmark report:

1. “The extent to which current and future generations will experience a hotter and different world depends on choices now and in the near term.”
The IPCC has “high confidence” that – unless we quickly make drastic cuts to emissions – global temperature change will exceed 2.7°F (1.5°C) during the 21st Century, a threshold that would trigger more severe climate events, humanitarian impacts and systems disruptions. The report indicates that if current emissions trends continue, climate change will progress rapidly, and we will not be on a path to creating a safe and just world for our children.

Frighteningly, it adds that children born in 2020 could see a global temperature change of up to 4°C in their lifetime if global emissions reach “very high” levels, but emphasizes that “future experiences depend on how we address climate change,” and that “the choices and actions implemented in this decade will have impacts now and for thousands of years”— important reminders to those who care about the future of young children.

2. Climate change is inclusive of more than just the weather.
When you think of climate change, it’s hurricanes, floods and droughts that most often come to mind. But the AR6 reminds us that the actual climate event is just one piece, as they also have significant widespread and long-term impacts on the systems we rely on to support ourselves and our children, like food and health care. It also emphasizes that successful climate change adaptation must include “increasing health systems resilience” and “improving access to mental health care,” both of which are likely to see increased demand as climate change progresses.

Ensuring that our food, health care and other systems meet the distinct needs of infants and young children – even amidst increased overall demand – will take us together making the case that climate change is an early childhood issue, and advocating for our youngest children where climate change adaptation and mitigation is discussed.

3. We must place the needs of climate-vulnerable and historically marginalized groups at the center of climate adaptation.
Though young children and pregnant people are mentioned only sparingly in the version of the AR6 that is currently available (and we hope to see that change in future reports), the authors frequently point out that the needs of climate-vulnerable and historically marginalized groups must be at the center of climate adaptation efforts.

The AR6 points out that some of the best climate change adaptation efforts are inclusive of “carefully designed and implemented laws, policies, participatory processes and interventions” that address the specific contexts and inequities experienced by these groups. The authors also remind us that what is good for the climate is often mutually reinforcing to human health and well-being, citing the example that “improved access to clean energy sources and technologies generate health benefits, especially for women and children.” They also share the importance of integrating climate resiliency into social protection programs that are supported by strong “basic services and infrastructure.” As far as we’re concerned, that includes strong early childhood systems and greater access to child care, home visiting, and doula services.

4. Grassroots movements have likely made a difference.
The AR6 indicates that public awareness campaigns and social movements have likely pushed governments and other decision-makers to set more ambitious targets to address climate change. These movements have “helped accelerate political commitment and global efforts,” have served as “catalyzing agents,” and, in some cases, have “influenced the outcome and ambition of climate governance” in various regions across the globe. If you have been part of those campaigns, take this section of the AR6 as a sign of encouragement that the movement you were a part of contributed to change.

5. Continued engagement and advocacy around climate change is essential to reducing emissions and creating a brighter future for our children.
The AR6 emphasizes that active participation in inclusive planning processes in our communities is key to slowing climate change and ensuring that we are resilient to climate events in the years ahead. The authors state that “inclusive governance processes facilitate effective climate action” and “climate resilient development benefits from drawing on diverse knowledge.”

If we want climate-adapted communities that are safe and supportive of our youngest children, the “diverse knowledge” that informs climate planning must include the expertise you have developed as a caregiver about what infants and children in your community need and what resources are available to families. Get involved in local planning efforts and encourage organizations in your community to make use of the Environmental Protection Agency’s environmental justice grants, including the Environmental Justice Small Grants Program.

For more big take aways from the AR6 report, check out summaries from NPR and climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe.

Start Early is a proud member of the Early Years Climate Action Task Force, a group cross-sector group of early childhood and climate change leaders who are writing the first U.S. Early Years Climate Action Plan. Be the first to know when we share the final plan this fall.


1 Anya Kamenetz. (2022). “This of the Children: The Young–And Future Generations–Drive US Climate Concern.” The Aspen Institute & Capita Social, Inc.: Washington, DC.

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In this peri-Covid period, it would be fair to ask, “How can we go beyond recruitment and retention given the shortage of home visitors right now?” After all, supervisors in community-based programs have never worked so hard to find and onboard new home visitors who are racially, culturally, and linguistically representative of families served while also trying to retain the ones who remain. For those of us connected to home visiting who are not supervisors, it is time to examine the systemic conditions that fuel pervasive vacancy and turnover, and to consider changes that could make a real difference both now and in the future for local programs.

Supervisors Know What’s Wrong With the Home Visiting Sector at the ‘Front Door’:

Interested candidates don’t meet educational job requirements set at the systems level. Are we turning away candidates with racial, language and community experience in common with the families served because they didn’t have an opportunity to pursue a degree? Perhaps we could make progress in achieving greater cultural alignment in the workforce with the families in home visiting, if we re-weighted personal attributes, life experience, and competencies as ‘proxies’ for job requirements based on economic opportunity.

Salaries are not competitive nor commensurate with the nature of the work. Let’s face it, there are many jobs that require less training, breadth of expertise, and emotional resiliency that pay the same or more. To retain this critical workforce, we need to advocate for higher salaries that match the expertise that home visitors bring to their work with families, nurture existing job benefits (e.g., partnership and support of peers; ongoing on-the-job professional development), and support opportunities for advancement.

Supervisors Also Know What’s Wrong with the Home Visiting Sector at the ‘Back Door’:

Job expectations keep expanding. Constantly expanding and/or changing expectations for breadth of expertise to keep the job they have, and at the same salary, is experienced by some home visitors as an invitation to leave their work with families.

Lack of opportunities for advancement. There is a need for better defined career ladders driven by the goals and aspirations of the workforce. This isn’t new, but we seem stuck in thinking about this as a challenge at the community, program, or agency level and not more broadly at a systems level.

Perhaps we need to expand our thinking about how to expose practitioners to other sectors of the home visiting field: research, training, administration, CQI, policy, etc. Gains could be made especially with a focus on BIPOC practitioners whose perspectives in these leadership and decision-making sectors are largely missing and yet, who are uniquely qualified to represent the perspectives of the minority families served in home visiting.

For those who have found a sense of calling in direct service with families, we have an obligation to improve the conditions that support them to stay doing what they feel called to do. At a systems level, ensuring equal access to high quality professional development that reflects the lived experience in the language of practitioners is a critical component. For those who want their experience with families to be a foundation for something next, we have an obligation to support their exploration of where in the field of home visiting they could be.

Home visitors often don’t have a seat at the table. Too often decisions are made that directly impact the work that home visitors do – without their feedback involved in the process. Engaging and authentically incorporating practitioner voice from the very beginning in decision-making processes brings critical expertise to the table.

Our Challenge to the Field:

We invite you to engage in further exploration of these issues with us and others from across the home visiting field at the upcoming virtual National Home Visiting Summit in March, 2023. The National Home Visiting Summit is a great opportunity to become personally and professionally inspired to explore who is involved and what is happening across the field of home visiting. The Summit emphasizes the importance of attracting, retaining, and advancing BIPOC representation and voice in all sectors of the field. It’s an opportunity to ask yourself what else you could do to open the ‘front door’ to a racially, culturally, and linguistically diverse, next generation of home visitors and to inspire today’s practitioners to find the place where they can make a valued contribution to the field.

The National Home Visiting Summit

Join us March 14-16, 2023, for the 12th annual National Home Visiting Summit as we virtually bring together a growing community of systems leaders, researchers, practitioners and more to advance the home visiting and early childhood fields.

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Yesterday, the United States’ 117th Congress passed its end-of-year omnibus bill, which notably included reauthorization of the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) Program. The final package includes the highest level of federal investment in and commitment to home visiting in over a decade – doubling federal investments to $800 million over five years, a doubling of the Tribal set-aside from 3% to 6%, development of new home visiting data dashboards and the continuation of virtual home visits.

This MIECHV reauthorization cycle has been a clear testament to strong bipartisan recognition that home visiting, as well as other early childhood programs, are focal priority areas for families and the early childhood workforce. Start Early is especially proud of the strong showing of support from the Congressional delegations in our home states of Washington and Illinois. We are particularly grateful to Illinois Representative Danny K. Davis (D-IL7) for serving as a true home visiting champion and the original co-sponsor of the House of Representatives’ MIECHV reauthorization bill.

An estimated 140,000 families across the United States partner with home visitors each year to enhance parent-child relationships and improve physical health, mental health, learning and safety outcomes. With this five-year reauthorization and expanded funding levels, MIECHV-funded programs will have increased stability and resources to enhance existing services, reach new constituents, increase compensation for home visitors and continue to evaluate their impact on children and families.

Start Early is deeply proud and thankful to be a member of the National Home Visiting Coalition Steering Committee and for the Committee members’ partnership in advancing this critical funding source in Congress over the last several months. We join other Coalition members in thanking Congress and recommitting ourselves to partnering with the Department of Health and Human Services in support of MIECHV implementation in states and communities across the country.

In addition to reauthorizing and expanding MIECHV, the final package includes funding for a wide array of family-facing programs, including:

  • The Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG), funded at $8,021,387,000 (a 30.1% increase over the FY 2022 level)
  • The Preschool Development Grant (PDG), funded at $315,000,000 (a $25,000,000 increase over the FY 2022 level)
  • The Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), funded at $420,000,000 for Part B (an increase of $10,451,000 over the FY 2022 level), $540,000,000 for Part C grants for infants and toddlers (an increase of $43,694,000 over the FY 2022 level), and $14.19 billion grants to states (an increase of $850,000,000 over FY 2022 level)
  • Head Start, funded at $11,996,820,000 (an increase of $960,000,000 over the FY 2022 level)
  • The National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative, funded at $93,900,000 (an increase at $12,000,000 over FY 2022 level)
  • Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS), funded at $75,000,000 (an increase of $10 million over the FY 2022 level)

These comprehensive investments align closely with Start Early’s long-held belief that we must strengthen and expand the many, intersecting systems that serve children and families to create a continuum of support that meets their diverse needs. The suite of family-serving programs supported by Congress in their year-end spending bill supports the mental, physical and economic needs of caregivers and the early childhood workforce.

While we celebrate these major wins for children and families, we recommit ourselves in the new, 118th Congress to advocate for early childhood supports that were not included in the omnibus. The Child Tax Credit and Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) are critical supports for families with low incomes, and Start Early is disappointed that these programs were not included in Congress’s year-end package. We call on the new Congress to partner with the early childhood field to extend and expand these critical programs in line with the new, approved investments and prioritize the health and success of children, families and the early childhood workforce.

Thank Congress for Championing Home Visiting

Thank your legislators for renewing and expanding critical home visiting investments in the 117th Congress’s Omnibus Bill.

Thank Congress

Start Early Leaders React

In response, Start Early leaders issued the following statements.

“Start Early is proud to celebrate the reauthorization and expansion of the federal Maternal, Infant & Early Childhood Home Visiting program. Congress’ final end-of year funding package, which also included several other important early childhood investments, demonstrated a historic and bipartisan display of the critical need for the prioritization of families with young children.

Start Early was founded on the notion that starting early and nurturing the attachments between children and caregivers are essential to a child’s present and future well-being. As such, with home visiting at the heart of Start Early’s work for over 40 years, we are committed to continue expanding the reach of programs and services to help ensure all families can experience those positive relationships and build a foundation of health and success for their newborn.

On behalf of children, families and home visiting programs across the country, I thank and commend the steadfast work of Congress and advocates who listened, shared personal stories, uplifted expertise and took action, efforts which made these transformative investments reality.”

– Diana Rauner, President

“Start Early applauds Congress’ final omnibus bill, which contains long-needed investments in several early childhood programs and services and particularly, the historic reauthorization of the Maternal, Infant & Early Childhood Home Visiting Program.

As part of the National Home Visiting Coalition’s Steering Committee, Start Early witnessed the successful impact of dedicated and collaborative efforts and expert-backed recommendations on behalf of America’s families and young children. We are proud to be a part of this critical work, and we expect this additional funding will transform and enhance home visiting programs through additional resources and capacity building.

Our team is eager to get to work with state and local legislators to effectively incorporate the package’s approved early childhood funds and policies into communities to reach more families and young children across the country.”

– Yvette Sanchez Fuentes, Vice President, National Policy

“Caring for a newborn child is one of life’s most important roles, yet far too many parents do not have equitable access to resources and supports. I applaud Congress for recognizing this reality and including the Jackie Walorski Maternal & Child Home Visiting Reauthorization Act in its end-of-year funding package, increasing funding and expanding home visiting services for communities nationwide.

The partnership between families and home visitors, built on a foundation of trust, supports healthy parent-child relationships, and encourages positive family health, development and overall well-being. All of these factors ultimately lay a strong foundation for a child’s health and success, so with this latest win, more children will have the opportunity to thrive.”

– Kelly Woodlock, Vice President, National Home Visiting

“The federal Jackie Walorski Maternal & Child Home Visiting Reauthorization Act is an historic and transformative investment that will support more families, communities and home visiting programs in Washington state with essential services than ever before.

I continue to be inspired by the thousands of families reached by MIECHV’s home visiting services in Washington today and the perseverance and dedication of the home visitors who support them. My hope is that this expanded funding will provide the resources and capacity to reach more families – particularly those in tribal communities and rural areas – with home visiting’s critical tools and resources to help families thrive.

On behalf of Start Early Washington and families and home visitors across the state, I applaud Congress and advocates for making MIECHV reauthorization and expansion a priority. We look forward to continue building our decades of home visiting expertise and direct work here in Washington to increase access to home visiting services for families statewide.”

– Valisa Smith, Executive Director, Start Early Washington

Ahead of Illinois’ midterm and gubernatorial elections next month, in a recent survey, voters across the state made it clear that they want to see increased attention towards early childhood services. In fact, the vast majority of survey respondents believe that investing in early childhood education and care is a good use of taxpayer dollars – and most would even be willing to pay more in taxes to fund it.

Start Early conducted this latest survey on behalf of state advocates to measure the level of support for early education among voters. The results were unequivocal – Illinois voters value early childhood education and care and want to see government action.

Eight in 10 voters say investing in early childhood education and care is a good use of taxpayer dollars. Among key groups like Black voters (55%) and those in Chicago’s suburbs (53%), a majority believe it to be a very good use of tax dollars. A majority of voters (56%), including nearly 75% of Black voters, went even further to say they are willing to pay a little more in taxes if it meant the state had better services for families with young children.

While partisanship continues to divide voters in many other policy areas, the survey’s findings also demonstrated that the early childhood education and care discussion goes far beyond political lines: 90% of Democrats, 73% of Independents and 70% of Republicans support government action and investment in early childhood programs and services.

Home to approximately 800,000 children under age 5, Illinois has a prominent history of investing in early care and education, spanning four decades under leadership of both Republican and Democratic state administrations. As the state prepares for its midterm elections, most timely is the survey’s bipartisan finding that most voters (70%) would feel more favorably towards a candidate who prioritizes an increase in funding for early childhood services.

“While Illinois has long been at the forefront of early learning and care innovations and investments, our system, like that of most states, has its challenges and real shortcomings,” Start Early Vice President of Illinois Policy Ireta Gasner says. “Without decisive action by our elected Governor and state legislators, critical components of the system will collapse – leaving countless young children and those who care for them behind.”

Decades of research have proven that quality early childhood programs can help break the cycle of poverty for generations to come and can change the trajectory of a child’s life toward healthy development and success. Yet, families – particularly those in communities left under-served – continue to face impossible challenges in accessing such early learning experiences.

As Illinois works to mitigate these challenges, often brought on by systematic inequities, voters reported that funding services for children experiencing homelessness and for children with disabilities or developmental delays should be priority focus areas of the state. Voters also ranked early childhood services as the second most important way to address the root causes of crime, a traumatic reality for far too many young children.

Start Early and its advocate partners across the state are passionately working to advance transformational change of the early childhood system in order to reach families and those who provide early learning services. This powerful survey data reaffirms that Illinois voters share advocates’ desires, and offers policymakers a renewed opportunity this upcoming legislative session to redouble efforts to make early learning a reality for all young children.

Conducted in partnership with Global Strategy Group, the survey of 609 registered voters in Illinois took place between September 8 – 12, 2022, and an intentional focus was placed on ensuring diverse demographic and geographic representation among voters. Interviews were conducted over the phone and text to web.

Key Findings:

  • A majority of overall voters say early childhood education and care is a good use of taxpayer dollars.
    • Eight in ten voters say investing in early childhood education and care is a good use of taxpayer dollars.
    • Among key groups like Black voters (55%) and those in the Cook suburbs (53%),a majority believe it to be a very good use of tax dollars.
    • Taking action and using taxpayer dollars to invest in early childhood education and care garners bipartisan support across the political spectrum with 90% of Democrats, 73% of Independents, and 70% of Republicans believing it is a good investment.
  • Most voters are even willing to pay more in taxes to fund early childhood and care services.
    • A majority of voters (56%) say they are willing to pay a little more in taxes if it meant the state had better services for families with young children, including nearly three-quarters of Black voters (72%).
    • Half of voters believe the state government is not spending enough on services for young children and their families, even higher among parents (54%), especially parents of color (52%).
  • Voters believe elected officials are not talking about or focused enough on early childhood services.
    • Half of voters believe their elected officials are not talking enough about early childhood services (52%) and believe they are not focused enough on the issue (53%).
    • This is especially true of key groups like Independents, of whom two-thirds (68%) believe their elected officials are not talking enough about the issue.
    • Similarly, parents of those under the age of six overwhelmingly believe elected officials are not talking about (67%) or focused enough (66%) on early childhood services.
  • According to voters, the state government does not do enough to help new parents and families meet their responsibilities.
    • About half of voters overall believe the state government is not doing enough to help new parents and families.
    • This increases to nearly two-thirds of voters of color (65% of Black voters and 66% of Hispanic voters).
  • Support for this issue goes beyond party lines and has widespread support: 80% of Democrats, 58% of Independents, and 51% of Republicans want the state to fund programs aimed at making childcare more affordable
  • There are many other specific services or programs related to early childhood that share support from a majority of the electorate.
    • Helping those who face the steepest challenges, like homeless children and those with disabilities, is extremely popular across partisan lines.
    • Even 69% of Republicans believe the state should be doing more to fund services to care for children who are homeless and 75% of Independents also feel the same way.
  • Early childhood services are seen as a way to address crime.
    • Illinois voters are concerned about crime (32% rank it as their first or second most important issue) and want to prioritize addressing the root causes of crime early in children’s lives (60%), over short-term actions like tougher sentencing.
    • Addressing root causes are prioritized across the board, including independents (55%) and those in the collar counties (60%).
    • Providing early childhood services ranks second as the most important way to address these root causes.

More Like This

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 *.