Supporting Early Education, Fostering Cross-Sector Partnerships

Our new early education grants highlight the need, opportunity for strong partners in schools, health care, and neighborhoods

By Antoniya Marinova, Program Officer and Rhaia Hull, Graduate Intern, Education to Career

Over the past decade, vast volumes of research, as well as our own grantmaking in K-12 and higher education, have pointed us to a simple truth.

For many students, even kindergarten might be too late.

Early Childhood forum photo

Early childhood has come up time and time again as a place where education, health, and community organizations could partner with funders and put children on a path to success long before they set foot in a kindergarten classroom. Students who arrive in kindergarten in good health, with a solid academic foundation, and robust social supports, are primed for success throughout their school years—and beyond.

With that in mind, the Boston Foundation and its donor partners launched a request for proposals (RFP) this spring to help create and support innovative partnerships that ensure pregnant mothers and families with babies and young children can better access the services they need.

We received a remarkable response: 33 proposals from a diverse mix of nonprofit organizations, health care institutions, schools, and community centers who wanted to either seed new partnerships or expand existing ones. The proposals all sought to ensure that families with babies and young children are better able to get supports and interventions when they need them—through changes to direct services, through systems change, through changes in policy.

A panel of TBF staff, donors, researchers, parents, and other early education stakeholders reviewed each application rigorously. A set of nine applications rose to the top. These applications will receive grants of $50,000 for seeding new partnerships and up to $100,000 for expanding or deepening existing partnerships.


In grants to early education partnership grantees

The new grantees serve pregnant mothers and families with young children across 16 Boston neighborhoods. While a sizeable portion of the work is in Dorchester, Roxbury, and East Boston, the partnerships support families as far north as Charlestown and as far south as Hyde Park—in effect covering almost all of Boston. And each partnership is unique in its approach to tackling issues within their communities and how it works to improve the overall quality and coordination of care for young children.

The majority of lead applicants are non-profit organizations. They have detailed plans to work with organizations that offer other services, health centers, or different state departments, so that the partnerships can successfully remove or reduce barriers preventing families from connecting with services that they or their children need. Lead partner organizations vary widely in size, ranging from $845,000 to $1.25 billion in annual revenues.

A number of grantees proposed innovative approaches to increase and align services and address the needs of children and families living in their communities. For example, Roca, Inc. will partner with the Department of Transitional Assistance, the Department of Children and Families, North Suffolk Mental Health Association, East Boston Social Centers, and East Boston Neighborhood Health Center to streamline services for young immigrant mothers and break down systemic barriers that impede support for East Boston’s children.

Other grantee partnerships aim to foster the bond between parents and children to ensure the child’s healthy development from the start. These plans include introducing new forms of mental-health and trauma-informed services for both children and parents. Horizons for Homeless Children, Smart from the Start, and the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children all plan to lead partnerships that engage parents.

Lastly, several grantee partnerships focus on strengthening the child care workforce, including through comprehensive training, resource sharing, or new forms of technical assistance. The United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, for example, will expand the Shared Services initiative to Boston child care centers on a pilot basis. This program will connect child care centers with a web platform that offers an array of tools, services, and resources. It will also help them navigate information on licensing, policies, and procedures, while providing pre-negotiated discounts on resources critical to small-business child care providers.

The full list of new grantees is below:

Expanding Innovative Partnership Grantees

Lead partner: Horizons for Homeless Children, for expanding a partnership that seeks to strengthen the social-emotional development of children through expanded trauma-informed care and parental involvement. Partners include: Jewish Family and Children’s Services, Young Audiences of Massachusetts, and Brazelton Touchpoints Center.

Lead partner: Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children MSPCC, for developing and piloting a system to prioritize mental health services for DCF-involved infants, young children, and families. Partners include: Massachusetts Association for Infant Mental Health, Massachusetts Head Start Association, Massachusetts Alliance for Families, and the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families.

Lead partner: Smart from the Start, for their Family Strength and Wellness initiative that seeks to expand trauma-focused work with families in Boston Housing Authority public housing. Partners include: Brazelton Touchpoints Center, and Boston Housing Authority.

Lead partner: Family Nurturing Center of Massachusetts, Inc., for expanding partnerships focused on Allston-Brighton family support and engagement through locally recruited Parent Partner Liaisons. Partners include: Charles River Community Health Center, Jamaica Plain Brighton WIC, and The Basics, Inc.

Seeding Innovative Partnerships Grantees

Lead partner: United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, for the Boston pilot project of their Shared Services initiative. Partners include: UMass Boston’s Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation, Tech Goes Home, Bunker Hill Community College, the City of Boston, and multiple center-based and family child care providers.

Lead partner: Urban College of Boston, for strengthening supports for Spanish- and Chinese-language family child care providers. Partners include: BMC Vital Village Network, Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center, Asian American Civic Association, and ABCD Child Choices of Boston and Head Start.

Lead partner: Roca, Inc., for forging new pathways to high-quality early childhood services for East Boston’s highest-risk young families, especially immigrant mothers ages 15 to 24. Partners include: Department of Transitional Assistance, Department of Children and Families, North Suffolk Mental Health Association, East Boston Social Centers, and East Boston Neighborhood Health Center.

Lead partner: The Dimock Center, for the Dimock/Urban Edge Collaborative, for forming a partnership to provide stronger wrap-around supports and streamline early child care services for families in Urban Edge housing. Partners include: Urban Edge.

Lead partner: Boston Medical Center, for embedding economic mobility mentoring for pregnant and new mothers in health service delivery settings. Partners include: Economic Mobility Pathways (EMPath), and BMC Vital Villages Network.

These grantees join a growing group of organizations that the Foundation is supporting through its early childhood strategy, including the UMass Boston Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation, the Boston Basics, New Profit’s Early Childhood Support Organization Initiative, and the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care.

The Boston Foundation is excited to support this diverse portfolio of partnerships to improve child-caregiver relationships and increase access to and alignment of services for infants, young children, and their parents and caregivers. We look forward to learning alongside our new partners. We also plan to convene them throughout the coming year, showcasing their work to the Greater Boston early childhood community and sharing key learnings with the field.