Early Childhood System of Care
An early childhood system of care ensures comprehensive, coordinated, individualized, family-driven services and supports for young children and families. This approach promotes the integration and coordination of discrete child and parent services across all service sectors into a comprehensive system that “connects the dots” within the service community. This includes mental health, early care, early intervention, education, home visiting, child protection, family support, and social and concrete services for the child and other family members.
The system of care uses a public health model that provides a continuum of care, promoting positive well-being, preventing problems in high risk populations, and intervening/treating in a comprehensive manner when problems do arise. It is the collaborative relationships among the provider agencies, parents, and other stakeholders and a common set of values and goals that enables providers to see the broader needs of families, set aside turf issues, and utilize existing community services to benefit the health and well-being of families.
The Child First intervention addresses the highest risk families, decreases stress within the family, increases stability, facilitates connection to growth-promoting services, and supports the development of healthy, nurturing, protective relationships.
Child First is a community-based model that integrates all levels of intervention with the child and family. It takes an ecological approach, which operates on three levels:
- The health and development of the child
- The critical relationship between the child and parent, as well as others who take a major caregiving role; and
- The environmental challenges that impede the parents’ ability to nurture and stimulate the child’s development.
Early childhood councils or collaboratives are an essential component of the Child First model. They include:
- Professionals from both the child and adult serving agencies (state supported, nonprofit, and for-profit) including: primary health care, early care and education, school systems, child mental health, family resource and support centers, home-visiting, child welfare or protective services, domestic violence, shelters, adult substance abuse and mental health, special health care needs, dental care, and other social services
- Parents and other primary caregivers
- Community stakeholders including elected officials, policy makers, business, faith-based leaders, and funding partners
The early childhood community council or collaborative:
- Promotes a shared understanding of system of care values:
- Child and family centered
- Relationship based
- Culturally competent
- Grounded in developmental knowledge
- Infused into natural environments and services
- Facilitates relationship building among community providers, which increases trust and decreases issues of turf. This promotes collaborative problem solving at the family and system level.
- Facilitates integration of services across service sectors.
- Provides system oversight and problem-solving around gaps and redundancies within the service system. At the system level, this leads to new collaborative initiatives (often at low or no cost) and increased collaborative responses to new grant opportunities.
- Helps community providers recognize the broad challenges of the children and families, not just the individual need that their service is addressing.
- Facilitates referrals of multi-risk families from community providers to Child First for comprehensive assessment and intervention.
- Facilitates referrals from Child First to community providers for new services that promote family health and wellbeing.
what people are saying
Child First “has transformed scientific research into an extremely effective, evidence-based practice.”— Jack P. Shonkoff, M.D.
Professor of Pediatrics
Harvard Medical School and Children's Hospital Boston
Director, Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University
what people are saying
“Child First has marshaled strong evidence demonstrating the ability to intervene early, at relatively low cost, to reduce the harm caused by childhood stress in extremely high-need families.”— David Bornstein
Read and share the article on NYTimes.com >>
New York Times "Fixes" Columnist
Author of “How to Change the World”