Over the last decade, research has incontrovertibly established the power of early childhood interventions. High-quality programs for babies and young children can have a lifetime of benefits; they also deliver higher returns on investment than most interventions targeting later stages in human development or education. As part of its 2020 strategic plan, the Boston Foundation committed to launching an early childhood strategy to improve young children’s readiness for success in school and life. This new early childhood strategy focuses on strengthening the interactions between caregivers and Boston’s youngest children (ages 0-3) and on increasing access to quality Pre-Kindergarten for children ages 4-5.
In the fall of 2017, the Foundation formally kicked off the strategy work by hosting high-profile forums. The first forum in November brought together city and school leaders to highlight the City of Boston’s efforts to expand access to high quality Pre-K. In December, a second forum examined research on the importance of the first 1,000 days in human development, convening experts and civic leaders to discuss models for leveraging cross-sector collaborations to transform systems and improve health outcomes of young children. On March 21, 2018, the Foundation will host a forum on the policy dimensions of early childhood with Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo.
In January 2018, the Foundation also launched its Early Childhood Research Roundtable series—a regular platform for elevating new or seminal research in early childhood and engaging with stakeholders in Greater Boston—policy makers, practitioners, community health centers, child-care providers, advocates, researchers and donors. With such diverse participants, the worlds of research and of policy and practice can overlap more intentionally and inform one another. The inaugural roundtable in January highlighted research on the effectiveness of state and district Pre-Kindergarten programs, including that of the Boston Public Schools, on child preparedness for Kindergarten and beyond. Future research roundtables will cover other topics in early childhood; for example, the characteristics, strengths, and challenges of the early child care workforce (watch for this in June 2018).
Despite growing evidence of the importance of early childhood interventions, families with young children still must navigate different systems to access the care and services they need. Better alignment among providers can increase families’ access to high-quality health care, child care, education and other family-serving supports—in part because families will have a trusted and informed community of providers with common and consistent messaging about relevant and timely resources and information. To strengthen existing cross-sector partnerships—and to seed new ones—the Boston Foundation, in partnership with donors, recently issued a request for proposals (RFP) for grants of two types: Seeding Innovative Partnerships and Expanding Innovative Partnerships in Boston neighborhoods. Grants to seed new partnerships will support nascent collaborations between two or more family-serving organizations from different sectors, such as health care, childcare and education. Grants to existing cross-sector place-based partnerships will help in aligning, deepening and expanding supports and services these partnerships provide for young children and their families.
The RFP process includes several stages, including an Idea Lab (held March 5), at which more than 100 representatives from 42 prospective applicant organizations networked and brainstormed together and received technical assistance to help initiate or strengthen their partnership. Full proposals are due on April 3, 2018.
Strengthening cross-sector partnerships, new or existing, will ensure that pregnant mothers and families with babies and young children know about and can access the supports they need to get their child ready to succeed at age five. Over the long term, we hope that this work will increase the number of children who meet developmental and behavioral milestones from birth through three and arrive in kindergarten ready to engage in, and benefit from, being in school.