Early Childhood Education Update - June 2012

June 06, 2012 | Child Care and Early Education

In this issue:


CLASP's newly released toolkit, Home Away from Home, offers help to states exploring partnerships between home visiting and family, friend and neighbor (FFN) caregivers. Many young children spend significant time in the care of family, friend and neighbor caregivers, in particular infants and toddlers and children from low-income families. Home visiting is an important strategy for reaching vulnerable children in FFN care and providing their families with needed services, as well as improving the quality of FFN care and the learning environment for children in that setting. 

CLASP's toolkit provides detailed information on available home visiting models and their potential for use in partnership with FFN. It includes a planning guide for states to explore home visiting partnerships, including potential policy changes that may need to be considered. The toolkit also includes case studies of existing partnerships between home visiting models and FFN providers in specific states and communities. Each case study includes information about the model used, professional development and workforce implications, implementation, challenges, and any available evaluation results. 

Read Home Away From Home >>


A recent report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) outlines how early childhood education can provide a model for how to conduct classroom observations for the larger K-12 education system. In recent years, increased attention has been given to teacher evaluation and the need to use evaluations in determining what improves student outcomes. Early childhood programs make observations on a variety of program features, including health and safety considerations, materials and physical layout of spaces and classrooms, and the interactions between children and adults-including conversations, emotional tone, or physical proximity. Teacher and classroom observations can be analyzed systematically and used to predict future student learning gains when aligned with specific supports.

CAP's report examines the strategies of early childhood program observation, and offers a set of lessons that may be helpful to states and districts as they begin to implement new, more rigorous observation protocols in K-12 classrooms. Key lessons from the report are designed to be used by K-12 educators as they begin to use new observational measures as well as policymakers and district leaders who advocate for the use of such measures. The report's main lessons include:

  • Making sure that any measure that is used provides information in the form of metrics that discriminate among those being assessed. Observational measures should consist of codes and benchmarks that are applied rigorously.
  • Observations that are used for decision-making and performance improvement must adhere to a standardized procedure. Training protocol, parameters around observation, and scoring directions are three key elements that should be standardized in any measure.
  • Choosing tools that have documented reliability across observers, teachers, time, and situations. Reliability of observational protocols and scoring systems is fundamental.
  • Observations of teacher performance should show empirical relations with student learning and development in order to use observation as an instrument in improving student outcomes.
  • Time considerations must be taken into account when choosing observational tools-observation takes time and different observational tools will require different time commitments.
  • Observational protocols have the capability of identifying teacher classroom behaviors that matter for students, describe typical practices, how classrooms or teachers compare with a national or district average, predict the likely contribution of a teacher to a child's learning, or document how a teacher's practices have improved with professional development. However, observational measures should be used with caution and users should not try to apply them in every circumstance.
  • Observational measures can be used for both accountability and program-improvement, but as policy and program investments change over time it may be necessary to raise the bar on performance standards.
  • When using observational measures, teachers benefit most when feedback is individualized, highly specific, and focused on increasing teacher observational skills, self-evaluation, and helps teachers see and understand the impact of their behaviors more clearly.

Read the full report from CAP >>


Infant-early childhood mental health (I-ECMH), also referred to as social and emotional development, is defined as a child's capacity to develop close and secure adult and peer relationships; experience, manage, and express a full range of emotions; and explore the environment and learn in the context of family, community, and culture from birth to age 5. State and federal policies aimed at supporting the development of infants and young children must also address I-ECMH. Currently, challenges still exist in financing and delivering infant mental health promotion, prevention, and treatments. ZERO TO THREE (ZTT) published an article looking at the scientific evidence supporting I-ECMH policies; examining the issues national, state, and local program directors and mental health providers face providing I-ECMH services; and proposing recommendations for federal-level policy improvements.

Infants, toddlers, and parents can all experience serious mental health issues that affect development, and if left untreated, mental health disorders can affect multiple domains of development and have detrimental effects on future health and developmental outcomes. ZTT conducted interviews with 23 leaders in 10 states as well as with national experts to determine the barriers as well as successful strategies associated with financing and delivering I-ECMH services. The barriers highlighted as most significant include: 1) a lack of evidence-based practices and policies in mental health, early learning and development, or health care reform for I-ECMH, 2) reimbursement issues that hindered their ability to pay for I-ECMH, 3) having eligibility determinations and diagnoses impede appropriate I-ECMH services, 4) a lack of trained providers in I-ECMH, 5) a larger system serving young children that does not adequately include I-ECMH services.

In order to address the barriers that states and local programs and providers face, ZTT offers a set of policy recommendations to put in place at the national level. Individual agencies and departments can take action to help better integrate and provide I-ECMH services and support.

  • Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) should issue guidance to state Medicaid agencies expressing its intent to include infants and young children in mental health treatment. In addition, they should urge consistency across states and regions in I-ECMH screening, diagnosis, and treatment, and encourage states to develop policies that support the reimbursement of I-ECMH services.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency (SAMHSA) should develop and adopt federal polices and encourage states to develop policies that support I-ECMH concepts and interventions. SAMHSA should address the needs of infants and young children who have been affected by adult domestic violence, substance abuse, trauma, and mental health issues. They should also increase the focus on I-ECMH throughout all SAMHSA initiatives.
  • Department of Education's Early Learning Initiative team and the Office of Special Education Programs should develop and adopt federal polices, while also encouraging states to adopt policies, which focus on supporting I-ECMH concepts and interventions. States should be provided with resource materials that highlight the connections between I-ECMH and early learning, including supports for children with special needs and their families. States should also be supported and encouraged to develop comprehensive early learning and development systems, and financing strategies that are inclusive of I-ECMH promotion, prevention, and treatment.

Read more about I-ECMH in ZTT's complete article >>


The United States remains the only industrialized nation without a national paid family leave program that helps support workers when they need time off to care for a new baby or a sick child. A lack of a paid family leave policy has left parents trying to meet the needs and expectations of both work and family. Low-income parents in particular often work in jobs that provide few family-support benefits, making the demands of family and job even more challenging to meet. Research has shown that paid family leave provides many benefits to business, including improved employee retention rates and increased job satisfaction. However, growing research is showing that paid family leave also has beneficial effects on a child and parental physical and emotional health. A policy brief from the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) zeroes in on the effects of maternal employment and parental leave policies on child health, cognitive, and emotional development; maternal health; and the health of parental relationships.

Mothers who take paid family leave have been shown to breastfeed for longer and at higher rates, which leads to positive health outcomes for both child and mother. Additionally, paid family leave policies have been shown to be associated with lower infant and child mortality rates, higher birth weight, more well-baby doctors' visits, complete immunizations, and better parent-infant bonding. More parental time with babies also has positive social and cognitive benefits for children including higher cognitive scores, fewer externalizing behaviors, better bonding with parents, and increased parental responsiveness to child's cues. Moms who receive paid family leave show lower rates of depression, and more complete physical recovery from childbirth.

Included in the brief are multiple recommendations for policymakers, researchers, public health and early childhood stakeholders, and business groups on how to address and implement paid family leave policies. NCCP's brief suggest that a paid family leave policy solution can build on existing policies, including the Federal Family Medical Leave Act and State Temporary Disability Insurance Program, and is supported by research that documents the benefits for business, families, and children. They recommend using statewide family leave policies currently in place in California and New Jersey to serve as models, and that it is possible to implement a paid family leave policy that is cost neutral or incurs minimal expense to a state.

Read the full NCCP brief on paid family leave >>


The Annie E. Casey Foundation recently released a policy report detailing the struggles of kinship caregivers and the need for greater support from government and communities for kinship families. Kinship care refers to children who are cared for full time by blood relatives or other adults whom they have family-like relationships with, such as godparents or close family friends. Extended family members and close family friends care for more than 2.7 million children in the United States. Kinship caregivers are more likely to be poor, single, older, less educated, and unemployed than families where at least one parent is present.

Kinship caregivers also often face increased financial burdens when taking on the care of children, and the financial burden can be even more severe when kin are already caring for other children, take in large sibling groups, are retired, or are living on a fixed income. A majority of kinship caregivers do not receive financial assistance either, and many are unaware of the government supports that exist to help them care for the children they've taken in. Less than 12 percent of kinship families receive TANF support and only 17 percent of low-income kinship caregivers receive child care assistance. States often prefer placing children with kin over families unknown to children, however there is uneven progress across states in actually seeking out and engaging family connections to place children with kin. Additionally, current state licensing requirements and practices often prevent kin caregivers from being approved as foster parents. Kinship caregivers also face barriers to becoming children's legal guardians.

The report provides a set of policy recommendations to strengthen the support system for kinship families.

  • Increase the financial stability of families by ensuring kinship families have access to the benefits they are eligible for, and by designing TANF-funded programs that meet the needs of kinship families.
  • Strengthen the involvement of kinship families in the child welfare system through aligning public agency and court practices with the philosophy of placing children with kin; assuring that decisions to divert children to live with kin instead of entering the state custody is guided by sound policy and practice; reforming the foster home care licensing requirements; and by adding subsidized guardianship to the permanency options for foster children.
  • Enhance other community-based and government responses for kinship families by offering stable housing, affordable legal representation, access to health care, the ability to enroll children in schools, and access to community-based supports.

By implementing these types of policies and strategies throughout the different levels of government and within a community, kinship caregivers and the children in their care will be able to receive the support they need.

Read the entire report on kinship caregivers >>


The Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) provided child care subsidies to nearly 1.7 million low-income children in 2010 and is the largest source of federal funding for child care. The CCDF program requires that state lead agencies certify that state or local laws are in place to protect the health and safety of children receiving subsidized care in three main areas: 1) prevention and control of infectious diseases, which includes age-appropriate immunizations; 2) building and physical premises safety; and 3) minimum health and safety training appropriate to the provider settings. A brief from Urban Institute and the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE) highlights recent research that can help inform lead agencies as they consider ways to support state licensing and other systems that influence children's health and safety.

Children's health and safety is supported through appropriate child:staff ratios and group sizes, good hand washing practices, having staff who are informed about immunizations and medication administration, and having comprehensive emergency procedures in place. Health and safety training for providers is also crucial to the safety and health of children receiving care. Providers should be trained in first aid and CPR, SIDS prevention and safe sleep practices, and child abuse identification and prevention. State lead agencies and child care providers should also consider going beyond the CCDF-required categories and promoting health and safety practices related to nutrition and physical activity, health screening and consultations, and mental health consultations.

Research on health and safety for children in child care can help inform CCDF policy, and in turn benefit providers and the children and families they serve. The research shows that:

  • Health and safety components of programs help protect children. However, there are major variations across states with respect to regulations, enforcement of regulations, and support.
  • Nutrition and physical activity regulations and interventions may help prevent obesity, and health and mental health consultations and screenings are also ways in which children's health can be supported.
  • Training and other supports have an impact on children's health and safety.

Further research is still needed on the health and safety practices in home-based child care as well as on the health and safety practices in subsidized care supported by CCDF. CCDF policy would also benefit from a better understanding of how regulations, enforcement, and training supports work together to impact health and safety. Additionally, studies using child health assessments as quality measures are needed.

Read more on the health and safety of children in child care >>


As childhood obesity rates increase, more attention is being paid toward what policies and action communities and government can take to help prevent the steady climb in childhood obesity rates and help improve children's health. Two reports, one from the National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education and the other from the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP), take a close look at what can be done to prevent obesity starting in early childhood.

  • Preventing Childhood Obesity in Early Care and Education Programs - This report from the National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education provides a set of standards that are evidence-based as well as expert consensus-based, and span three topic areas: nutrition, physical activity, and screen time in early care and education. The report recommendations include breastfeeding for infants and having infants fed by a consistent caregiver, and requiring regular meal and snack patterns, appropriate serving sizes, and self-feeding for toddlers and preschoolers. Nutritional education for children as well as parents and caregivers is also encouraged. With respect to physical activity standards, they recommend active opportunities for physical activity and playtime, both outdoors and indoors; and that child care providers utilize policies and practices that encourage physical activity. Additionally, screen time should be limited. These standards can be used by a variety of individuals from families at home to caregivers and teachers in classrooms to health care professionals and policymakers. The report encourages interaction among families, caregivers/teachers, and health care professionals to help implement these standards.

    Read the complete standards >>

  • Comprehensive Obesity Prevention in Early Childhood: Promising Federal and State Initiatives - NCCP's report looks at a range of early childhood obesity prevention initiatives to help inform states of ways they can build cross-system efforts that reduce childhood obesity rates. While providing strategies, the report also draws attention to the need for greater coordination across early care and education systems and other early childhood systems to help reach children and families who are both in and out of early care and education settings. Five overarching policy recommendations are provided. They include: 1) enhancing child care licensing regulations on nutrition and physical activity; 2) expanding nutrition programs such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) to help reach food insecure families with infants and toddlers; 3) states can use quality rating and improvement systems (QRIS) or other incentive programs to promote health nutrition and physical activity; 4) child care health consultants and pediatric medical homes can help promote healthy nutrition practices and physical activity; 5) obesity prevention initiatives should be coordinated at the state-level to help integrate the different federal funding streams available.

    Read more about state initiatives and policy recommendations >>


A new study from the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) finds that the early reading skills of children from linguistically isolated households (those without any adult English speaker) can significantly improve with participation in a center-based care program the year before kindergarten. Over half of 4-year-olds in California, where the study focused on children of immigrants, and almost 20 percent of young children of immigrants in California live in linguistically isolated households with little or no exposure to English. Children whose parents do not speak English and who receive little exposure to English prior to entering school often begin kindergarten lagging behind their peers in school readiness skills.

While the report finds improved early reading skills among linguistically isolated children, the size of gains were similar to those made by children of U.S. natives and would not close the achievement gap between these children and their English speaking peers. The report's authors suggest that early education programs targeted toward linguistically isolated children might have a greater impact in reducing gaps in school readiness skills. The study also found no improvements in early mathematics skills for linguistically isolated children. The report's authors encourage policymakers specifically in California to consider the merits of center-based programs for linguistically isolated children, and consider increasing the enrollment of these children in the state preschool program. Additionally, they encourage further research to examine the longer-term school trajectories for linguistically isolated children so that the benefits of center-based programs can be more fully assessed. Policymakers are also urged to consider funding preschool in conjunction with other evidence-based early intervention strategies for disadvantaged children like home visiting programs, which combine parent education with child participation in early education programs.

Read the full study from PPIC >>

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