Early care and education (ECE) and home visiting are both services that greatly benefit kids and their families. But these services are often not well coordinated at the state and local level.
Early care and education for young children and home visiting for parents are difficult to coordinate, in part because multiple funders are involved — often with different administrative oversight mechanisms, housed in various agencies. As a result, these services and supports often operate in silos, which means families may need to provide the same information multiple times and may receive duplicative screenings for services.
But worse than that, the two systems miss opportunities to collaborate to better serve families and children. States, cities or counties can take steps to build coordination. We will outline a few of the most significant ones here.
First, when these entities link early childhood data to state or local integrated data systems, it is easier for policymakers to answer critical policy questions about how families experience these services and whether children or families benefit from the services later in life. That data is often maintained only within each program, making it difficult to describe all services provided to families and measure how the service constellation improves outcomes such as school readiness or reductions in child maltreatment.
While the early care and education field has made gains in connecting its records to other systems, less progress has been made in connecting home visiting data. Five states — North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Minnesota and Utah – are currently working to integrate home visiting data with other early childhood data. Local-level data integration and linkages are also emerging to support more effective case management and supports for families, referring them to needed services and reducing service duplication.
For example, as part of a public-private partnership, North Carolina is creating NCCARE360, a new statewide resource and referral platform that will make it easier for community-based organizations, health care providers, insurers and other partners to connect people with the community resources they need.
Second, states can strengthen their workforce by coordinating professional development opportunities across systems — for example, by adopting shared core competencies across the workforce. Well-trained and supported home visiting and ECE workers are better able to meet the needs of children and families. Investing in the entire early childhood workforce, both home visiting and early care and education, will create efficiencies across the system and improve quality across early childhood services.
Although some professional development content may be unique to specific services, early childhood professionals often share knowledge and skills in working with parents of young children or understanding young children’s development. For example, child care coaches targeting classroom teachers and home visitors targeting parents likely have much to teach each other about encouraging adult behavior change to better support children.
Finally, state and local systems can support activities to ensure more direct connections between home visiting and early care and education programs. Home visitors say that referring families to high-quality child care is one of the most challenging referrals they make. Child Care Resource and Referral agencies are used by many states to help families find programs in their communities that best meet their needs. Connecting the two would support home visitors in making these referrals and would help parents get the support they need to achieve positive outcomes for their children.
Many other areas are also ripe for sharing and coordination across these two critical parts of the family services field, including family engagement, engaging fathers in services, and cultural competence. For example, the two fields can learn from each other about methods that incorporate family input into program operations, thereby improving family engagement.
We acknowledge the fundamental differences between the home visiting and early care and education fields: one supports children’s development by working directly with the child, the other provides this support through interactions with parents. These differences —coupled with the fields’ unique governing structures, with different regulations and funding sources — shape differing professional cultures.
But the striking commonalities between these fields suggest that greater cooperation could strengthen both fields and improve family and child outcomes.
Lauren Supplee is deputy chief operating officer and Kelly Maxwell is a senior research scientist for Child Trends.
This column is based, in part, on a blog series highlighting commonalities across home visiting and early care and education.