VISION: Washington State is a place where each child starts life with a solid foundation for success based on strong families, culturally relevant early learning practices, services, and supports that lead to racial equity and the well-being of all children and families.
The Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) was awarded a federal Preschool Development Grant Birth Through Five (PDG B-5) from the Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, and the Department of Education. In 2018, DCYF was awarded an initial grant of $5,270,656, and then in 2019, was awarded a renewal grant for $33,527,307 to carry out approved activities over the next three years.
DCYF recognizes early learning services as a core prevention strategy. The PDG B-5 award allows the agency to strengthen and build integrated services across early learning and child welfare, including expanding crucial programs for children and families.
Washington’s vision for early learning requires the active collaboration of state-level, regional, and community partners across all programs, services, and supports that contribute to the physical, cognitive, and social-emotional development of Washington’s children. Reflecting that collaborative approach, both a statewide Early Learning Coordination Plan and the needs assessment that serves as its foundation were developed in partnership with many organizations, tribal governments, agencies, and individuals (parents, caregivers, providers, and others) across the state.
The PDG B-5 Equity Commitment
Our state has made great strides toward improving early learning outcomes, but achieving our bold goals requires DCYF and partners to center solutions on the system that continues to underserve and marginalize Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. One of the biggest challenges we face is that DCYF and our partners are part of the system that creates and perpetuates the racial inequities and other disparities we see in key success indicators, such as our kindergarten readiness rate.
To address this challenge, our work must center efforts to identify and interrupt patterns and practices that have reproduced inequities in our system. Central to this vision is an intentional focus on redesigning early learning systems to eliminate systemic racism and forms of oppression that have been part of the American legacy. These systems continue to marginalize, exclude, or impose cultural norms on communities within our state. If we want different results, we can’t keep doing the same thing. We are committed to facilitating intentional design to interrupt these patterns, with our Early Learning Coordination Plan leading the way.The PDG B-5 is committed to revolutionizing the way Washingtonians receive and access early learning resources and services. This work aims to revamp Washington State’s mixed delivery system to become more equitable for all, specifically for those who have had significant barriers with their interaction with it. It has been created with communities and for communities by relying heavily on the idea that people are the experts of their own stories. DCYF and partners are committed to building authentic relationships with communities most often marginalized by our system to listen to, lift up, and value their lived expertise in the spirit of co-creation.
Washington’s vision for early learning requires the active collaboration of state, regional, and community partners across all programs, services, and supports that contribute to the physical, cognitive, and social-emotional development of Washington’s children. Reflecting that collaborative approach, the needs assessment was developed in partnership with many organizations, tribal governments, agencies, and individuals (parents, caregivers, providers, and others) across the state. It reveals the rich diversity of the state’s children, families, communities, and providers. It shows the strength of community support for early learning and the leadership across the field — from families, providers, tribal communities, advocates, organizations, schools, state agencies, legislators, and more.
The needs assessment also shows that there is still much work to be done to support children and families, particularly those most vulnerable. There is deep disproportionality related to race and ethnicity in accessing services and achieving positive outcomes. Additionally, there are striking economic limitations in the current child care system for both families and providers, and there are areas of extremely limited access to services and supports in rural communities. Gaps still exist in the breadth of supports needed by parents, caregivers, and early learning professionals.
This report serves as a foundational document for the design and implementation of Washington State’s next statewide early learning plan. It will provide a valuable resource for state and local partners as they create the next generation of improvements and enhancements to the state’s early learning system. It is also important to note that the needs assessment is a snapshot in time. The current economic, public health, and political landscape is changing rapidly, which has created a need for dynamic collaboration and adaptability.
The Early Learning Coordination Plan (ELCP) creates an aspirational vision for how the state and community partners working with parents, caregivers, and early learning professionals can support the healthy development and school readiness of Washington’s youngest children (from prenatal to age 8) and their families. Central to this vision is an intentional focus on redesigning early learning systems to eliminate systemic racism and forms of oppression that have been part of the American legacy. The high-level goals and strategies in this plan aim to disrupt that legacy to realize an overarching vision that “Washington State is a place where each child starts life with a solid foundation for success based on strong families, culturally relevant learning practices, services, and supports that lead to racial equity and the well-being of all children and families.”
The goals and strategies were co-created with a large and diverse group of community partners. More than 150 people from across the state were engaged through a project steering committee and community-based workgroups, using the targeted universalism framework to ensure the strategies explicitly name our commitment to eliminate racism, bias, and discrimination in communities. Additionally, strategic early learning priorities were developed by a workgroup at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and a separate tribal group facilitated by the Indian Policy Early Learning (IPEL) committee. Their work is incorporated throughout the document.
Partners in the early learning system reflect the many people and agencies that play a pivotal role in supporting the health, development, and school readiness of children and their families. These partners include state and community agencies, tribal communities, legislators, advocates, parents, caregivers, early learning and K-12 professionals, and others. They must work together to coordinate the many supports and services designed to help children and families thrive. This vision will provide a catalyst for the early learning system partners to come together to discuss and coordinate priority actions, create more detailed implementation plans, coordinate policy efforts, and determine the metrics and outcomes needed to measure progress.
Help Me Grow® (HMG) is a community-driven resource and referral linkage system that connects young children and their families to appropriate services and community supports. Parents, caregivers, early learning, health, and other service providers can call, text, or email HMG and connect to caring people who are highly trained in child development. The resource navigators listen to families’ needs and link them to the most appropriate child development resources.
Help Me Grow® Washington is supported by a core team that includes representatives from WithinReach, Washington Communities for Children, and the DCYF. Help Me Grow® contracted with Washington Communities for Children (WCFC) to support implementation and create outreach and communication tools that market HMG to underserved families in each location. WCFC has used their existing relationships and expertise to create communication toolkits — developed in partnership with parents and providers — to maximize parents’ knowledge about how they can connect with a coordinated referral system all the while prioritizing approaches to reach parents and children who experience the greatest disparities within the current system. Help Me Grow® Washington contracted with WithinReach to provide regions with technical assistance.
Help Me Grow® Washington’s work is also supported by Actions Teams and a Leadership Council. As the regions continue to plan and implement at the local level, the Help Me Grow® Washington Action Teams have further developed the coordinated statewide system. The Action Teams carried out activities like integrating a robust evaluation component to help review opportunities and gaps to refine the statewide system; developed an equity plan that will be integrated into the statewide system; advised on a statewide messaging and outreach campaign that aimed to capture the voices of families and service providers; worked closely with DCYF to develop a tribal engagement strategy; and provided guidance on the development of a coordinated statewide early childhood resource directory. The Leadership Council is charged with further developing the coordinated statewide system and has carried out activities like identifying a way to implement a statewide infrastructure that includes an interconnected data system; integrating a robust evaluation component to help review opportunities and gaps to refine the statewide system; partnering with The Essentials for Childhood Help Me Grow workgroup to develop an equity plan that will be integrated into the statewide HMG system; developing a statewide messaging and outreach campaign that will target families and service providers; and working with communities to establish a plan for prioritization and equitable distribution of resources. The longer-term goal is to achieve full implementation of Help Me Grow® across Washington State by 2025 to equalize access to care coordination and referrals for families with children from prenatal to age 5.
HMG Washington 2020 Accomplishments (available in English and Spanish)
PDG B-5 funding has provided a unique organizational benefit that integrates Early Learning and Child Welfare with a focus on preventing a child’s and their family’s deeper involvement within the child welfare system. Through PDG B-5 funding, DCYF collected and analyzed data to identify opportunities to better serve families and children through Child Welfare–Early Learning connections. Those connections are made by DCYF Child Welfare Early Learning Navigators (hereafter referred to as Navigators), who are tasked with collaborating with Child Protective Services (CPS) front-line staff to support child welfare-involved families to connect their children to high-quality early learning experiences. Currently, this work is being carried out across three diverse areas of the state: South King County; Grays Harbor, Mason, and Pacific counties; and Yakima County. The Navigators work alongside CPS investigators, Family Assessment Response (FAR) caseworkers, and Family Voluntary Services (FVS) caseworkers to ensure interested families connect with and successfully start in community-based early learning services. The Navigator identifies and reaches out to eligible families, assesses early learning needs, and then matches them with a service in their community. Navigators focus on services with a wrap-around component (e.g., Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP), Head Start, and Home Visiting) and licensed, quality child care programs. These methods achieve two interrelated outcomes: the process strengthens the CPS social worker’s knowledge about available community resources, and it helps families connect with critical services to fill unmet needs.
The second part of this work was to test engagement approaches. The Navigators identified approaches that connected families to high-quality early learning and tested the impact of approaches that vary by timing, voluntary engagement, involvement parent who suggests an early learning service, and frequency of initiating early learning conversations. Navigators tracked the results of referrals and contacts with families and submitted data to DCYF’s Harvard Graduate Performance Lab Fellow, who performed an analysis to identify which local solutions show the most promise for future scaling of Specialized Pathways for Child Welfare-Early Learning. The learnings from this work have been disseminated and replicated. This information can be found below in the additional resources section.
The Navigators have continually improved and adapted this work to meet the goals of the Early Learning Coordination Plan. For example, this project has a goal of expanding services to include an intentional focus on Indian Child Welfare services in response to initial data findings from the needs assessment that demonstrated out-of-home placements are significantly higher for American Indians and Alaska Natives. An Indian Child Welfare Navigator will join the team and will begin to serve tribal communities. Working with DCYF’s Office of Racial Equity and Social Justice (RESJ), the team will broaden this goal to increase and expand services to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). Activities would include community forums (possibly virtually) with parents and community members to identify and create BIPOC specific resources.
In the collaborative efforts of DCYF, the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), and Child Care Aware (CCA) of Washington, the Early Connections Play and Learn Groups at Community Service Offices (CSO) lead the way with new approaches in early learning and social services integration. This partnership sets the stage for invaluable social connections and pathways for a circle of mutual support for young children, families, and caregivers. The goal of Early Connections Play and Learn is to bring high-quality early learning experiences to families and children who access services from their local DSHS CSO. The Early Connections Play and Learn model has shown success in supporting child outcomes for families not accessing formal care. Modifying the model to include a drop-in approach in a high-traffic office has helped reach many additional children in our state.
The program has been providing services in Yakima and Sunnyside since 2017. In late 2019 and early 2020, the program expanded to four additional CSO sites, including Toppenish, Moses Lake, Wenatchee, and Spokane. In March 2020, the CSOs and Early Connection Play and Learn groups were forced to close in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Services continued to be delivered through remote contact with families and working relationships with CSO staff. A talk and text line was developed and promotional materials were created in English and Spanish to inform CSO workers and families about the modification of services. An evaluation of the CSO Early Connections Play and Learn model was also completed. One additional CSO office is now offering Early Connections Play and Learn through partnership funding from Catholic Charities of Yakima County.
Early Learning Play and Learn groups have proven to be an effective means of connecting with parents and caregivers who access child care through Family, Friend, and Neighbor (FFN) providers and builds their knowledge and skills to promote strong parent-child relationships. Families are provided information and resources to continue to support early learning for their children.
Shared Services has realigned its plan to meet the most immediate needs of child care providers: business supports, health consultation, infant and early childhood mental health consultation (IECMHC), and trauma-informed care (TIC). This reframing of the shared services delivery allows for the continuance of offering Business of Child Care training and follow up coaching through Child Care Aware (CCA)of WA, as well as a plan to expand access to IECMHC by increasing the number of mental health consultants (MHC) to the IECMHC pool. The increase will support TIC, social-emotional development, and reduce expulsion.
The Washington Statewide Early Learning Needs Assessment revealed the need for a deeper level of services to support providers struggling to care for children with the highest needs and to prevent expulsion of children from care. CCA will address this need by connecting providers with direct training from IECMH consultants. IECMHC, TIC, and Health Care Consultations strengthen provider capacity through practice-based coaching and mentoring. Applied learning allows providers to ask questions and test competencies so they gain the confidence to practice what they learn.
Business supports include administrative and financial, such as help with subsidy billing, enrollment, fee collection, understanding, and implementing the iron triangle, facilities improvement, strategic planning, and budget development. Additional Business of Child Care modules and trainings will continue to occur.
DCYF has collaborated with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) under a shared vision that kindergarten transition is not a single event that ends once a child passes the threshold of the kindergarten classroom, but instead transitions create continuity in the growth and development of children and the cultivation of relationships that begins well before kindergarten and extends far beyond. Successful transitions include the child, family, early care and education providers, pre-K and school district staff, and the larger community.
Implementation of Strengthening Transitions projects was informed by the research on current practices and barriers to effective transitions with a focus on culturally specific groups – especially those furthest from educational justice. Two separate grant projects support strengthening transitions practices across systems. In collaboration with the Office of Head Start, the 100 Schools Reach initiative is an opportunity for cross-sector teams to co-design transition approaches that fit the needs of their individual community. Transitional Kindergarten – Partners in Transition provides grants to support school districts to plan and implement Transitional Kindergarten with strategic support in curriculum, classroom setup, and professional development. The second round of these grants runs through October 2021.
An important finding in our initial study of transitions practices in Washington included the challenge of identifying family voice in transitions. This critical component of effective transitions, notably absent in our initial research, posed a clear priority for the remainder of the Strengthening Transitions work. The PDG B-5 transitions leadership team has begun working with trusted partners to develop a series of listening sessions to lift up the family voice, leadership, and advocacy in transitions. In May 2021, the PDG B-5 Transitions team began meeting with a group of family members who are former WSA Parent Ambassadors. These Family Voice Leaders meet with DCYF and OSPI staff monthly to plan and design listening session formats and protocols to learn about the birth through kindergarten transition experiences of families across Washington – particularly families from historically marginalized and underserved populations.
The PDG B-5 Transitions Team initiated conversations with tribal early learning directors. These discussions guide our work in seeking a family voice in tribal communities and support dialogue on transition practices with neighboring public school districts. What we learn from these families and communities will go far to building a system that supports effective transitions and perseveres through serving each child by need and stage of development.
DCYF and OSPI have launched cross-agency efforts to increase and sustain the involvement of children aged birth-5 with special and complex needs in inclusive, community-based learning and licensed-care settings. This partnership is committed to supporting children with special and complex needs across agencies. DCYF implemented a multi-day virtual training and community of practice for 300 Early Achievers (QRIS) coaches to introduce them to the Pyramid Model. The Pyramid Model is a positive behavioral intervention and support (PBIS) framework to help early educators build skills for supporting nurturing and responsive caregiving, create learning environments, provide targeted social-emotional skills, and support children with challenging behavior.
Inclusion Practices also recognizes the importance of Trauma Informed Care and how those practices support the creation of an inclusive environment. Therefore, they simultaneously launched Trauma Informed Care Professional Development training to add an additional layer of support to participants. These trainings were delivered to coaches, mental health consultants, and early childhood support staff.
Looking forward to further integration, the Pyramid Model Training will be implemented in coach onboarding and will continue to hold anti-bias/anti-racist, inclusion, and behavioral supports at the forefront of what is delivered. The Trauma Informed Care Professional Development training will take what they’ve learned to finalize a visual display of the scaffold learning opportunities that are currently available and begin to make direct connections to Washington’s existing efforts related to the Pyramid Model.
In 2019, with federal funds from PDG B-5, Senate Bill 5437 required DCYF to “develop a plan for phased implementation of a birth to three early childhood education and assistance program pilot project,” now named Early ECEAP. Early ECEAP is one program among many that allow DCYF to bring innovation and increased capacity to the early learning and family support systems in Washington State for infants and toddlers and their families. This model will encompass many features. All of these features will come together to address the main goals of the pilot: Increasing high-quality comprehensive center-based services to infants and toddlers and their families; fostering the health, education, and well-being of infants and toddlers prenatal to three years old; providing strength-based family support and parent education; build trusting, respectful partnerships between families, staff, and community; and lastly in partnership with each contractor, identify and test innovative strategies for improving services to BIPOC communities, children that have experienced trauma, and children with disabilities.
An evidence-based practice called Mobility Mentoring® is embedded in Early ECEAP pilots. Mobility Mentoring® has proven effective within ECEAP for supporting families to promote economic mobility and goal achievement. Mobility Mentoring® aims to overcome the extreme stresses of poverty by improving focus, planning, and decision-making. It is designed to help people set and achieve future-oriented goals, despite the immediate challenges and weight of poverty.
To fulfill the goal that DCYF become an evidence-driven organization with a focus on child and family outcomes, a priority for the DCYF Office of Innovation, Alignment, and Accountability (OIAA) is to create a data integration platform that will combine the legacy databases from the existing agencies and incorporate advanced data analytics capabilities to understand and improve outcomes for Washington’s children. Data integration will help ensure our policies and practices respond to child and family needs and facilitate continuous improvement and accountability in our system.
PDG B-5 funds are allocated to help OIAA begin data integration across seven early learning data systems. OIAA has established a Digital Innovation (DI) team that will build and maintain a cloud-based data platform to support traditional descriptive and diagnostic reporting as well as advanced research, analysis, and predictive analytics across all of DCYF. A cloud-based platform to launch this work has been secured, and the DI team has begun to develop the data products and services that will enable researchers and analysts to synthesize operational data into actionable information for staff across the agency.
OIAA has begun some of the data integration work. The analyst team has started to design the external-facing data dashboards. OIAA’s vision is to create Tableau-supported interactive, drillable dashboards with the functionality to allow local community stakeholders to analyze the indicators most relevant to their community and help them determine strategies to improve early learning. OIAA envisions that dashboard templates will be created through an iterative process informed by the data priorities of local stakeholders. Dashboard creation was stewarded by learnings from the community, staff, and stakeholders about their local data needs and requirements. OIAA will design and build draft dashboards and perform quality assurance and testing with stakeholders before final approval and publication.
Washington Communities for Children (WCFC) is a network of coalitions dedicated to improving the well-being of children, families, and communities. WCFC utilizes the Help Me Grow® (HMG) framework to link local, regional, and statewide efforts, and PDG B-5 resources have supported the organizing of these efforts. Ten WCFC Regions across the state have trusted relationships with more than 600 organizations and individuals. Trusted partners include early learning providers, social service agencies, early intervention services, child welfare organizations, libraries, juvenile courts, school districts, public health agencies, higher education, families, and many others.
At the regional level, parents are already an integral part of WCFC. Through this relationship, they have leveraged opportunities to lead planning, implementation, and evaluation efforts. WCFC’s parental engagement process has aided the engagement of parents who represent ELL, urban, semi-urban, and rural parents, and parents who represent the cultural and linguistic diversity that exists across the regions of our state.
The Preschool Development Renewal Grant Birth through Five (PDG-R B-5) evaluation team supports data-driven decision-making by providing accurate and reliable information. This information is used to answer pertinent questions about our PDG-R funded projects and their contributions to Washington’s Early Learning Mixed Delivery System. The evaluation team ensures results are understood and applicable for all stakeholders, prioritizing the data needs of communities furthest from opportunity. This team is responsible for collecting and analyzing data to support continuous quality improvement, developing an evidence base, and assessing implementation. This includes leveraging the data lifecycle to reveal positive and problematic practices of data equity at various stages of planning, collection, analysis, use of statistical tools, analysis, and reporting and dissemination.
DCYF engages internal and external partners who bring diverse and innovative perspectives to inform evaluation design. Our PDG B-5 Program Performance Evaluation (PPE) partners are key to evaluation planning. This range of stakeholders identified and prioritized questions and indicators, and continue to be integral in the next steps of data analysis. Key partners include DCYF leadership, the implementing units within DCYF, and key external partner organizations represented on the Statewide Early Learning Strategic Plan Steering Committee, Core Strategy Team, and other stakeholder groups. Each internal and external organization has designated an individual staff to serve as a point of contact for the OIAA Evaluation Team for our PPE.
The evaluation team believes that evaluation processes are most effective when they include strategies to build strong relationships, center equity, reveal power, and engage stakeholders throughout each stage of the PPE.