Last year, the federal government devoted $250 million in federal funds to preschool expansion and development, and it budgeted another $350 million this year. Studies show that every dollar spent on high-quality preschool brings savings in terms of reduced costs for absenteeism, special education placement, and grade retention.
But some experts worry that funding for preschool alone doesn’t help low-income working families who want education for their children and child care during times when parents are working. The two new preschool grant opportunities aim to support collaborations between preschool and other early childhood programs to offer more seamless services for children and families.
Historically, child care programs have offered full-day, full-year services to support families’ workforce participation, while preschool has provided part-day and part-year services to support young children’s development. The US Department of Health and Human Services recognizes that families seeking child care and preschool often want services that support their children’s growth and development in addition to care that enables parents to work or go to school.
Rather than providing funds to only support the expansion of preschool in school-based settings, the new grants require states and communities to assess the needs of families, develop plans to meet these needs, and engage families in designing services. These grants prompt states and communities to encourage early childhood programs to work together to offer seamless, high-quality education and care services that meet the needs of families.
So how can service providers form effective collaborations to achieve those goals?
Strategies to build effective early childhood collaborations
Articles in the Early Education and Development journal’s Special Issue on Early Care and Education Collaboration offer insights into evidence-based strategies to develop effective collaborations and reach desired outcomes. Those strategies fall under two broad themes.
Focus on mutual goals
Regardless of whether those designing and implementing collaborations are program or school administrators, teachers, or university partners, successful collaborations focus on goals and measurable objectives that are agreed upon by all partners.
Research on early care and education collaborations focuses on a range of goals:
- working together better to combine funds to deliver joint services
- implementing seamless early education and care services for children and families
- creating smooth transitions between Head Start and kindergarten
- supporting teachers working together to create shared curriculum
- improving program quality, classroom quality, and students’ learning outcomes
Regardless of the partners’ goals, it is critical that they clearly articulate their desired outcomes at the start of the collaboration.
Develop strong relationships and clearly defined roles
Clearly defining the roles of each partner or partnering organization is key to a collaboration’s success. Strong administrative procedures—such as contracts guiding the collaboration, procedures for explaining each program’s regulation, and processes for sharing data—also contribute to a smooth collaboration.
Forging strong relationships among the partners and devoting sufficient time to the collaboration are also important. Studies have found that the strength of the collaborators’ relationships predicts the collaboration’s success.
Strong collaborations to improve equity
Although these findings might seem obvious, they raise important implications for policy, especially for policies related to equity. Evidence about the role of relationships in forming and sustaining collaborations leads to questions about how to best engage partners historically left out of formal systems who could benefit the most from collaborations.
Without a deliberate focus and strategy to promote equity, some researchers worry that existing inequities in opportunities will be exacerbated. But collaborations can also represent an opportunity to involve new partners and create new relationships.
These research findings can inform policymakers and service providers who want to ensure they meet the early childhood needs of all families in their community.