Starting Points: State and Community Partnerships for Young Children. (Reports from the Field)

Article excerpt

Susan V. Smith (1)

In 1994, Carnegie Corporation of New York released a report called Starting Points;: Meeting the Needs of Our Youngest Children, (2) which presented research evidence on a "quiet crisis" confronting children under age three in the United States. The report concluded that "an epidemic of inadvertent neglect" characterized the nation's response to children's fundamental needs, and it launched a challenge to America's pivotal sectors to take action to advance four key goals: preparation for responsible parenthood, improved preventive health care, quality child care, and stronger community planning and supports for young families.

The report received front-page coverage in many newspapers, and its findings contributed to the legislation that established the Early Head Start (EHS) program. (See the article by Fenichel and Mann in this journal issue.) Soon after, the 1994 congressional elections shifted additional responsibility and authority for social policy toward the states, and welfare reform legislation was enacted. Cognizant of these policy trends, Carnegie Corporation developed the Starting Points Initiative, which used both national and site-specific strategies to:

(1) Promote better understanding among policymakers, parents, and the public of the importance of the early childhood years;

(2) Encourage and monitor program and policy innovations in the field of early childhood; and

(3) Support emerging state and local leaders in early childhood education, health, and parent support.

This article offers a brief overview of the initiative and the lessons that have emerged from it.

Research and Public Education

On the national level, the Starting Points Initiative brought key research evidence about the needs of young children to the attention of policymakers and the public. Evidence from neuroscience, and developmental and cognitive psychology focused on the early years of life, was showcased at a national conference and in a report called Rethinking the Brain: New Insights into Early Development, (3) while other reports highlighted practical lessons about successful community mobilization from public health and community education campaigns. (4,5) The Starting Points Initiative forged partnerships with governors, mayors, legislators, and other state and local policymakers to advance early childhood reforms and collaborated with the Clinton administration in the planning of two White House conferences on early childhood development held in 1997.

Carnegie Corporation and a consortium of more than a dozen philanthropies and corporations also supported the national public awareness campaign, I Am Your Child, led by Hollywood film actor-director Rob Reiner and the New York City-based Families and Work Institute. The campaign disseminated research reports, community planning guides, videotapes, and a CD-ROM for parents of young children on early childhood and brain development; and it helped shape a special edition of Newsweek magazine titled Your Child: Birth to Three. As a complement to these national activities, state-based coalitions carried early childhood messages and materials to parents and practitioners in local communities.

State and Community Partnerships for Young Children

In selected states and cities, the Starting Points Initiative sought to turn research and public awareness into action by building state and city leadership networks for program and policy improvements. In 1996, Carnegie Corporation launched a program of competitive grants called the Starting Points State and Community Partnerships for Young Children. Initial funding supported alliances in 10 states and 6 cities that sought to implement the reforms called for in Starting Points. In 1998, seven of those states and four cities received grants to continue their work for two more years.

The initiative was designed to be catalytic, so the grants it provided were modest in size. …