Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

These days, local communities are leading the way in early childhood. We’ve highlighted some of these local efforts on our blog both here and here.

Now a new national report looks at three different local efforts, successful early childhood programs that are solidly rooted in their communities in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Durham, North Carolina; and throughout Oregon.

The report – “Building our Future: Supporting Community-Based Early Childhood Initiatives” – springs from a meeting that was held last year by Child Trends, with the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the George Kaiser Family Foundation.

At the meeting, 150 participants — from community organizations, research organizations, government, and philanthropy — learned about “community-based early childhood initiatives and what is needed to sustain and spread early childhood initiatives in other communities.”

As the report explains:

Tulsa, Oklahoma was featured because of its use of Educare and other health and family support services to support young children and their families across the city.”

Durham, North Carolina was featured because of one neighborhood-based initiative that addresses health, family support, early learning, and education. The work of the East Durham Children’s Initiative (EDCI) served as an example of community in the narrowest sense—a 120-block area within the city of Durham. Durham Connects, a universal home visiting program, was featured as one program within the continuum of services available to families living in the EDCI Zone.”


“In including Oregon, we expand the common notion of community by demonstrating the role of state government in supporting community-based early childhood initiatives through its regionally-based Early Learning Hubs. VROOM, a program to support parents’ engagement with their young children, was featured as one of the community-based services that the state is supporting.”

The key lessons for supporting these community-based efforts are:

• using data to document progress and guide decisions

• having broad support and services from city, county, and state stakeholders

• meeting community needs

• maintaining an intentional, on-going effort, and

 • using evidence-based programs, innovations, and coordination

The report also included advice for other communities, such as:

• embrace innovation

• “Early on, identify goals or intended outcomes and the data to measure progress in reaching those outcomes,”

• build a communication structure that promotes contact and information-sharing between state officials and early learning leaders

• partner with parents

• engage business leaders, and

• use the media and public awareness campaigns

When it comes to communications:

“The most effective message is one that is targeted to a particular individual or stakeholder group. Chet Cadieux [a Tulsa native who is chairman and CEO of QuikTrip Corporation] noted that, for him, the early childhood message about stopping the cycle of poverty was convincing. ‘You can either keep writing checks your whole life to multiple causes,’ he said, ‘or you can invest in the only thing that will deliver the long-term outcomes.’ While focusing on the long-term benefits may be useful, it may also be helpful to provide data about short-term benefits. The messenger also matters. The person delivering the message needs to do so in a convincing and charismatic way. The messenger should be concise, able to deliver the key message in 5 to 30 minutes and be clear about the request.”

The time to act is now, the report concludes, noting:

“The science is clear, and the need is great,” James S. Marks said in his closing remarks at last year’s meeting. Marks is the executive vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“We may not know all we wish we knew but we need to act now. If we wait 5 years, we lose a generation.”