Before you develop and execute a plan for action, take time to lay the groundwork for success. Build a leadership team, collect and analyze community data, and map community assets.
Build a Leadership Team
The first step in advancing programs and policies that support infants, toddlers, and families in your community is to create a cross-sector leadership team. This team should work together on each action step as you prepare, build your plan, and execute the work.
When building your team, consider including the following stakeholders:
- Elected officials, policymakers, and those with the ability to champion a prenatal-to-three agenda are essential to drive and sustain the resources and policy changes required.
- Representatives from different types of service sectors including, but not limited to, child care and early education, health (including behavioral health and pediatric health care providers), child welfare, K-12 education, post-secondary education, workforce development, housing, and philanthropy.
- Business leaders who understand the critical role early investments play in the long-term health and economy of communities.
- Faith leaders and those who can provide a moral and community-based voice to the proceedings and garner public support for your agenda.
- Parents, and parent representatives who have the trust and authority to speak on parents’ behalf, are a must-have on your leadership team to ensure that the people you are working to serve have a strong voice in the planning process.
- Local philanthropic organizations that can use their position and platform to raise awareness, elevate prenatal-to-three issues before the public, and when possible, direct financial resources to the issues.
Consider including representation across varying levels of staff—direct service, mid-management, and senior leadership—and ensure all members of the leadership team understand the critical role that parents play as children’s most important caregivers and first teachers.
- Have team members worked together before? Does everyone understand the purpose of this leadership team, and how this work is different from previous efforts or initiatives?
- Have you created time, space, and activities to build relationships and develop trust?
- Does everyone have a shared knowledge of the essential elements that need to be in place for infants and toddlers to thrive?
Do the parties have a shared understanding of the programs, funding, and services available for infants, toddlers, and their families?
Is there a shared understanding of the number of children born in your community, equity issues, current challenges, desired outcomes, and the programs and services other communities have developed or implemented that have been shown to make a real difference?
Is there a shared understanding of the problem you are trying to solve, the goal to achieve, and the pathways to progress?
Are there intentional connections among state and local efforts reflected on the leadership team?
Does your leadership team have a basic understanding of the issues that create disparities in outcomes, such as inequities among racial and ethnic groups, implicit bias, and historical trauma?
What are the barriers and gaps to creating a fuller understanding of existing inequity and how to reduce disparities?
One of the first steps in advancing programs and policies that support infants, toddlers, and families in your community is to create a cross-sector leadership team that will work together on each action step as you prepare, build your plan, and execute the work. Use this tool to help identify the right members to include on your team.
Use Data to Determine Needs
Once your leadership team is assembled, gathering new quantitative and qualitative data about the experience of infants, toddlers, and their families in your community, and reviewing previously conducted reports, is a critical first step in determining which services are needed and which systems can be enhanced.
Locating, collecting, and analyzing data will help identify disparities and uncover risk factors known to have a negative impact on child outcomes, such as poverty, homelessness, child abuse, and neglect. Disparities—gaps in access to services, unequal treatment, adverse health conditions, and early exposures to risks—can have serious and lifelong consequences for children.
Collecting data to assess the state of infants and toddlers in your community is important to inform your planning and strategy processes early on, and it will help establish a baseline that can be used to track the progress of your initiative over time.
Quantitative Data Collection
Before collecting new data, determine which organizations in your community may have already conducted their own prenatal-to-three needs assessment. For example, Early Head Start programs are federally required to conduct community needs assessments every three years. Nonprofit hospitals are required to do the same and likely have information on births and maternal health. Your local health department or research university may have also conducted recent relevant studies.
After reviewing existing data, determine the information gaps that need to be filled with new data. If the information is available, consider collecting and analyzing neighborhood-level data to more clearly understand needs. For example, two distinct neighborhoods within the same zip code could reveal a child care desert (shortage of child care slots) in one neighborhood while showing an adequate supply in the other. Note that while neighborhood-level data can be mined from existing sources, such as census data, the geographic boundaries used in those data sources may not match what residents think of as neighborhood boundaries.
Investigate trends in your community by gathering information over a period of years, and whenever possible, gather data disaggregated by race and ethnicity so that you have the information you need to analyze and address disparities.
Use the NCIT Community Profile Tool to assess your community and hone in on the unique characteristics, strengths, and needs of infants, toddlers, and their families. The tool provides a summary of important data about young children and families in your community. It also includes a series of questions designed to help you gather information on the status and experience of young children and their parents, assess community strengths and needs, draw attention to the issues that need to be addressed, develop priorities for change, identify needed infrastructure supports, and determine how data can inform decision-making.
Qualitative Data Collection
Add to your quantitative data findings with qualitative research. Input from the community is what makes an assessment valuable from a policy perspective, so your leadership team should work collaboratively to gather and digest qualitative data to understand the voices and perspectives of parents, caregivers, and other community members.
As you seek this input, engage parents and families about the quality of services they are receiving as well as services they don’t have, but wish they did. To reach parents and family members, consider designing a survey, conducting interviews, and facilitating discussions in community settings. Ask questions about the accessibility, affordability, availability, and cultural relevance of programs and policies to create a full picture of community needs. Make sure you are reaching those who don’t speak English and those who are not currently using services, such as refugees or new immigrants. Work to understand the barriers these groups face, their needs and strengths, and the services that would work best for them.
Together, quantitative and qualitative data can start a conversation about the key areas where young children and families in your community need support. Use the results, along with the Community Profile Tool, to help your community meet the identified needs and align your efforts with others at the state level.
The CDC offers a list of many national data resources that may be helpful and links to reporting resources for using data. Find their resources here.
- What information do you have about your community and its assets? What data do you have on births? How do these differ when you look at specific populations by race, ethnicity, and income?
- What data do you have on family circumstances (e.g. pregnant women or families with children under three living in a homeless or domestic violence shelter)?
- What information do you have regarding community services for pregnant women and young children (e.g. home visiting services)?
- What does the data reveal about how families in different groups or neighborhoods access services they need to thrive?
- Are there neighborhoods where disparities exist in the ability to access critical services that foster healthy beginnings, supported families and access to early education and care?
- How will the data you collect be used to create a picture of what is happening in your community?
- How will the data be shared with the community, and how might it be interpreted?
- Given the data about your community, what do you perceive as priority areas of need among families that are expecting or have babies or toddlers? Has your leadership already identified priorities related to children and families? If so, how do you bring the two perspectives together?
- What do families themselves say are their greatest strengths and needs?
- How is quality of life perceived in your community? What makes this a great place to live and raise young children?
- What assets do you have that can be used to improve the lives of your youngest children and their families?
- Are there neighborhoods/ZIP codes or populations in your community that are underserved?
- How does the data break down by race, ethnicity, language, gender, or any other relevant lenses for which data is available?
The NCIT Logic Model has been designed to support your coordinated community effort, helping to align your community’s goals with the indicators defined in the Prenatal-to-Three Outcomes Framework. This guide talks through the flow of the Outcomes Framework and provides prompts to consider as you build your action plan.
This tool supports states and communities accessing data on young children from consistent, reliable sources, including a list of national and Illinois state data sources for community, maternal and child health indicators, child development, and governmental educational entities.
The Comprehensive Needs Assessment list includes all agency's that are required by federal funding regulations to complete birth to five needs assessments and details the elements included in each assessment.
This report highlights the status of District of Columbia’s infants and toddlers, with a particular focus on indicators that research shows influence health, development, and learning in the early years.
Philadelphia has taken bold steps that acknowledge the importance of children’s earliest years to ensure a positive future for the city. This report provides a portrait of the well-being of Philadelphia’s youngest children. It includes a range of indicators (objective measures) intended to highlight how this group is faring, and how its well-being compares with national data.
Map Community Assets
In addition to shining a light on your community’s needs, data can help you identify your community’s assets, such as the availability of home visiting programs and the supply of high-quality and affordable early child care and education options.
There are multiple ways you can collect data about assets, including interviews with community stakeholders, focus groups, community forums, surveys, and existing data sets and reports. Don’t forget to consider the resources that your organization(s) brings to the effort, including financial resources, a network of advocates, staff capacity, communications networks, and relationships with decision-makers or influencers in your community.
When mapping community assets, go beyond surveying the strengths of individuals and clearly defined organizations (or just those on your leadership team). Be sure to dig deeper to identify the assets of your local community associations and informal networks. Gather information about:
- Local parent groups, teams, or coalitions interested in contributing to your work,
- Existing funding streams, and
- The physical assets in your community and who controls them. Are there green spaces, buildings, or unused land that contribute, or have the potential to contribute, to making your community a place where young children and families can thrive?
Once you have identified all community assets, map them out to determine the relationships between the resources and develop a picture of existing services and systems. Asset maps are focused on discovering the talents, skills, and resources found in your community right now and should be designed to build connections among residents, institutions, and organizations.
When mapping community assets with your team, having a visual that shows where your community’s strengths are located can help you see clearly and think more deeply about any concerns you may have regarding equity, the concentration of resources, and where services do and do not exist.
- Is there a family child care network in your community that helps families find care with flexible hours and a home-like setting that can meet cultural and linguistic preferences?
- Where do funding streams exist?
- How do faith organizations support and create assets in your neighborhoods?
This brief explores the state and local systems involved in supporting a prenatal-to-three initiative, including guidance around building partnerships at the state and local levels, information about governance, staffing, and funding along with technical assistance, measuring success, advocacy and major accomplishments in various states.
Use this tool to help hone in on the unique characteristics, strengths, and needs of infants, toddlers, and families in your community. Knowing which information is and is not available is a critical step to assessing local capability and assets available to improve outcomes for our youngest children.