In 2019, Early Childhood Iowa (ECI) received a Preschool Development Grant B-5 that provided funding for development of a comprehensive needs assessment and strategic plan with broad stakeholder input. The ECI State Board approved the completed needs assessment and strategic plan in the fall of 2019. The following summary reflects system progress regarding implementation of the strategic plan as of June 2020. Questions or requests for further information may be directed to the Early Childhood Iowa Office at the contact information provided below.
Iowa’s experience with the COVID-19 pandemic presented both challenges for our system and opportunities to highlight strengths in cross-system collaboration as we worked toward a flexible, responsive approach to maintaining high-quality services for children and families.
Recommendations for Child Care Response. Early Childhood Iowa collaborated with the Iowa Department of Human Services to develop and present recommendations for use of CARES Act funding to support child care providers. Early Childhood Iowa Area Directors worked with Child Care Resource & Referral, locally funded programs, and community partners to bolster and support child care programs throughout the pandemic.
• Virtual Services and Family Communication Needs. Family Support services across the state quickly and effectively transitioned to virtual service provision at the onset of the pandemic. Early Childhood Iowa partnered with the Iowa Department of Public Health to assess communication and technology needs for families enrolled in a variety of family support programs across the state. Based on needs identified, Iowa partnered with a cell phone provider and a statewide non-profit to create a “phone loan” program to maintain families’ ability to connect and engage in virtual family support services.
As a system, we continue to engage in collaborative planning to address evolving child, family and community needs.
Goal 1: Promote a coordinated infrastructure to advance the early childhood system.
Expand collaboration and coordination among state and local programs and agencies serving young children and their families.
Action 2. We defined the specific roles and responsibilities of Early Childhood Iowa (ECI) relative to state and local systems. Each component group reviewed their purpose, structure, and messaging. The Quality Services and Programs Component Group reorganized to support collaboration and alignment across three sub-committees (Family Support Leadership Group, Early Childhood Positive Behavior Intervention Services, and the State Child Care Advisory Committee).
Action 3. With support from the Governance Component Group, we completed the first ECI Systems Thinking Cohort (Waters Center for Systems Thinking) and actively applied systems tools to improve coordination across the system. Further, we created routine communications strategies and training about the ECI system, including a general orientation (ECI Strategic Plan) and a template for orientation (ECI Structure) to specific component groups. Co-chairs of each ECI component group are on track to complete and implement orientations by the end of 2020. Lastly, the ECI Steering Committee reformatted its meeting structure to better support component group co-chairs in communication and collaboration across strategic plan goals.
Develop and nurture effective public-private partnerships at a state and local level.
Action 2. The Private Public Partnerships Committee, a committee of the ECI State Board, developed three priorities for building and improving public-private partnerships across the system. This committee is focused on partnerships that support and promote child care. Committee members presented the priorities to legislative committees including Education Appropriations, Health and Human Services Appropriations and Economic Development Appropriations. In June 2020, the Iowa Legislature passed a bill within the Future Ready Iowa initiative to create a Child Care Challenge grant. Iowa Workforce Development will create the grant opportunity, which will allow communities to apply for funding to support the infrastructure of child care facilities.
Infuse data-based discussions and decision-making processes throughout the early childhood system.
Action 1. We continue to enhance the capacity of Iowa’s Early Childhood Integrated Data System (IDS) to capture population-based information about child and family needs, services, and outcomes. The IDS Taskforce is pursuing additional funding to refine and further explore findings from our 2019 Needs Assessment, including integration and analysis of new datasets (Head Start and Home Visitation).
Action 2. We provided state and local decision-makers with tailored ECI Area-specific data analysis, reports, and training to support local-level decision-making.
Action 3. Leadership from ECI and Iowa State University are collaborating with Third Sector Capital Partners to explore the potential creation of an outcomes management fellowship. The intent of the fellowship is to provide tailored training and technical support for system leaders and stakeholders to use data in strategic planning and decision-making. Further, the Results Accountability Component Group prioritized creation of a “learning community” targeted to ECI Area Directors and state program managers to further improve data culture across the system.
Action 4. The Results Accountability Component Group is on track to review and update state guidance for ECI area community plan requirements. With input from ECI Area Directors, the updated guidance will include enhanced support for identifying data-informed priorities and related decision-making about state and local budgets that impact the early childhood system.
Goal 2: Build public will for investing in young children and their families.
Communicate the value of The First 2,000 Days as the most critical stage of the human lifecycle.
Actions 1 and 2. The Public Engagement Component Group developed a strategic communications plan and corresponding communications toolkit, and a comprehensive style guide for use by state and local partners. Together, these documents use “The First 2,000 Days” as the unifying message for all communication efforts. The ECI State Office and ECI Area Boards are on track to implement the plan, toolkit, and style guide.
Action 3. The communications toolkit (linked above) includes strategies for “champions,” including local leaders and other system partners to engage community, civic, and other relevant groups in desired action.
Partner with families and communities to improve communication about what young children and families need and how the system responds.
Action 1. ECI initiated creation of an “information hub” for families as part of a larger website redesign. The information hub will include streamlined information about the early childhood system with attention to accuracy, accessibility, quality, and cultural responsiveness. We will seek direct input from families and community-specific leaders as development progresses.
Engage families as leaders and advocates for a comprehensive early childhood system.
Action 1. The Family Partnership Committee developed and administered a survey to assess current understanding and implementation of family engagement strategies. The survey targeted family support professionals and received 175 responses. The committee is on track to analyze survey responses, identify and adopt a framework for family engagement in 2020.
Goal 3: Transform the early childhood workforce through formal education, greater professionalism, increased skills and competence, and new approaches to implementing best practices.
Create a larger, more skilled early childhood workforce.
Actions 3 and 6. The ECI State Office collaborated with the Professional Development Component Group to create the Professional Development Hub to streamline existing professional development resources and content for early childhood professionals across the system and identify gaps in training. The Hub is housed within the re-designed Early Childhood Iowa website (scheduled to launch by fall 2020).
The Iowa Department of Human Services revised its child care training registry (i-PoWeR). The new system contains enhanced features to support the early care and education workforce to track training and formal education. The Department also collaborated with the Iowa Department of Education to deliver cross-system training for Iowa’s Early ACCESS (IDEA Part C) providers on child care and the Child Care Assistance program.
Additionally, the Professional Development Component Group revised the Quality Professional Development Measures document used by professional development providers, including higher education institutions. The Professional Development Family Support Leadership Team contributed to development of new materials for the Institute for the Advancement of Family Support Professionals to support those seeking credentialing and development of a personal learning map.
ECI continues to provide the Iowa Early Learning Standards (IELS) Orientation through collaborations with Iowa State University Extension Outreach and the Iowa Area Education Agency (AEA) Online Learning platforms, and through collaborations with the Iowa Child Care Resource and Referral, AEA system, and the Iowa Association for the Education of Young Children using a face-to-face format.
Action 5. ECI invested $250,000 of PDG funding and $120,000 in state funding in the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® IOWA scholarship program to promote and engage the existing child care and family support workforce in continuing their degree attainment. As a system, we worked closely with the Governor’s Office to inform planning for legislation that would further expand this effort. While the legislation did not advance during the 2020 session, we are hopeful interest will continue in future sessions.
Provide new or expanded early childhood workforce supports to enhance the quality of early childhood programs and services.
Actions 1-4. The ECI Professional Development Component Group identified a coaching framework that outlines five components included in evidence-based coaching models that support ongoing implementation and skill-building beyond initial training for professionals across the early childhood system. Coaching models already in use statewide include the Distance Mentoring Model and Practice Based Coaching. The component group also completed a crosswalk of the Iowa Early Learning Standards with the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework. The component group is completing a revision of the Iowa Adult Educator Competencies to include consultant and coaching competencies.
Action 5. ECI invested $61,329 in PDG funds and $70,725 in state funds for WAGE$® to address poor compensation and benefits for the early childhood workforce.
Goal 4: Ensure that young children and families receive the services they need when they need them.
Improve equitable access to early learning opportunities and services for vulnerable and underserved children and families.
Actions 1 and 2. The ECI Equity Advisory Committee engaged system component groups in training, discussion, and planning related to the Early Childhood Iowa Equity Guiding Principles. Each component group uses the Principles to guide implementation of the ECI strategic plan. Leadership for the Equity Advisory Committee presented the Equity Guiding Principles to the ECI Stakeholders Alliance on May 12, 2020 and the ECI State Board on June 5, 2020. Both bodies unanimously adopted the Principles.
The Results Accountability Component Group, Family Partnership Committee, and Equity Advisory Committee identified several opportunities for closer collaboration, including efforts to develop community co-interpretation strategies that directly engage families and underrepresented populations in understanding data and co-designing strategies for policy and practice change.
Action 3. The onset of COVID-19 led to several exceptions to policy for the Child Care Assistance (CCA) program. As a system, we are engaged in thoughtful, collaborative planning to assess the impact of these changes and identify opportunities to continue to support increased center- and home-based participation.
Expand and improve access to high quality early learning opportunities and services for young children and their families.
Actions 1-3. The Quality Services and Programs Component Group undertook a review of its existing leadership, coordination, and work structure in order to effectively plan and implement the action steps identified for this strategy.
Improve transitions among early childhood programs and between the early childhood and
PK-12 education systems.
Actions 1-4. We continue to prioritize action steps for this strategy, though we recognize that further planning and flexibility will be required as our system engages in COVID-19 recovery efforts.
Goal 5: Improve the quality of early childhood services for young children and their families across early care and education; health, mental health, and nutrition; and family support services.
Promote and incentivize the use of evidence-based programs and services across the early childhood system.
Action 1. As a system, we continue to partner with and support the Iowa Child Care Development Fund (CCDF) lead agency’s incentive structure to increase the number of providers participating in our current Quality Rating System (QRS) and other accreditation frameworks for early care and education programs.
Action 2. The ECI State Office continues to invest in the Family Support Credentialing Program. This establishes a basic set of standards for all of Iowa’s home visiting and group-based parent education programs. It is an option for those programs not affiliated with a national model.
Actions 3-4. The Results Accountability Component Group, Quality Services and Programs Component Group, and Professional Development Component Group identified opportunities for collaboration to plan and implement a Continuous Quality Improvement approach with training and technical assistance for implementation fidelity.
Adopt a collective impact approach to investing in high quality, evidence-based services, programs and activities across the early childhood system.
Actions 1-3. As a system, we reconstituted the Resources and Funding Component Group. The group first met on May 5 to identify leadership and review a draft action plan in alignment with the ECI Strategic Plan. The ECI State Office, leadership from the Resources and Funding Component Group, and staff from Iowa’s Legislative Services Agency are working in collaboration to undertake a fiscal scan and develop recommendations for a collective impact approach to align funding and resources.