In a national effort to build upon the work and investments at the local and state levels, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a significant reorganization impacting the Office of Head Start (OHS), the Office of Child Care (OCC) and the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Early Childhood Development (ODAS-ECD). This reorganization is not a consolidation of programs, but instead an alignment of Head Start and Child Care in order to be on the same page about quality requirements: a major step forward to ensure that children from birth to age five access quality early learning opportunities whether they go to one program or another.
Continuous and increased investment in the quality of the early learning landscape has been hard-fought for years at the local, state and federal level in order to improve outcomes for disadvantaged children from birth to age five. The reality for many years has been that services and funding sources have come from various pockets of state and federal actions. While these investments in early learning work to improve outcomes for young children, implementation has resulted in different standards and requirements, which then are complicated by the use of braided and blended funding. The state-federal partnerships that enable blended and braided funding has greatly increased the number children programs can serve across the country, and improving the efficiency with which states can access federal support is a key to putting high quality early learning within reach of low-income families.
Better alignment of early learning programs, policies and support functions were prioritized for the purpose of cross-pollinating best practices and improving OHS and OCC grantees’ access to resources from the Administration for Children and Families (ACF). By eliminating barriers to resources and making sure that best practices are implemented across the field, HHS has created space for continued improvement down the line. In a recent report by Sara Mead and Ashley LiBetti Mitchel at Bellwether, ‘Moneyball for Head Start: Using Data, Evidence, and Evaluation to Improve Outcomes for Children and Families’, nine federal policy recommendations are outlined to build upon the valuable work that Head Start has done in communities across the country for over fifty years. With better alignment between the Office of Head Start and the Office of Child Care, both programs can benefit from work done to improve upon the quality of Head Start grantees.
FFYF commends the work that HHS has put into aligning early learning work efforts at the federal agency level to alleviate pressure that parents and providers experience when trying to navigate affordable, high quality early learning for their child. Parents are their children’s first advocates and teachers, and aligning best practices with the best possible policies with this federal solution means that parents will have options to make the best early learning choices for their child. Not only will this optimize parent choice, this shift stands to improve the continuity of care for children across the continuum of early learning from birth to age five.
In conjunction with President Obama’s FY17 Budget Request, the federal funding and organizational efforts for early care and learning are actions that reflect both what overwhelming research shows and what voters demand.
For the full statement published in the Federal Register, click here.